Finally, the word is out and in the public domain that the government of T&T is in negotiations for a proposed 750-room Sandals Resort in Tobago. This development project is presently before cabinet after months of silence by government and officials within THA despite the skepticism raised by the local populace .
The Sandals project is expected to change the landscape of the tourism industry for the islands by increasing room stock inventory in Tobago, improve the quality product being offered, stimulate training, and increase airlift to the island. Granted the benefits are obvious but there are also questions that resonate: What is the expected percentage of skilled workforce from the islands that is required to service the sector? Can our local agriculture suppliers supply quality goods to the industry? Would community craftsmen and tradesmen provide timely, reliable and quality service ? Is the island prepared to manage carrying capacity concerns of our sensitive resources? Would there be a labour law review for the sector to comply? What policy is in place for local investors wanting to do mega project developments on the island- would the same incentives apply? These questions allude to the fact that government must have a master plan for hotel and coastal development on the island with measurable research and development to evaluate the tourism receipts necessary to drive the economy.
Essentially, Tobago is no stranger to All Inclusive’s (AI) as this destination has been predominantly sold by travel agents selling pre paid packages to European and British source markets.Studies have shown that the AI concept was novel in the late nineties offering travelers a pricing model which encouraged mass tourism to the destination. This concept has grown into trending resorts, that is : Golf , Spa and Health , Family or for Couples. The irony is AI resorts offer major incentives for guests to stay within the safe and protected confines of the property which disconnects the guest to the destination.
Properties established as AI in Tobago are Grafton Beach, Coco Reef, The Grand Courlan, Blue Haven , Rex Turtle, Magdalena Grand, to name a few . The difference with these properties is that they are much smaller in comparison to the larger AI’s, such as Sandals in this case, thereby giving the visitor the ability to enjoy the destination as well.
Basically, Sandals Resort present to Tobago, a hotel-brand product differentiation, which capitalizes on the core natural resources of the destination to maintain an attractive and promising position for its marketability.Of course, Sandals can be promising for Tobago as it belongs to the top 5 major All Inclusive (AI) chains worldwide and known as the most romantic property in the Caribbean region. The exquisite layout design, high quality and price , top customer service offering at least five international restaurants, entertainment and activities would supersede what is presently available on both islands.
Naturally, it would be expected that existing service and hotel operators become more competitive to maintain marketshare; and that government spend to improve sites and attractions, airport services , incentive plans and environmental policies- a conversation for many years!
This is where I concur with the article by Kathleen Pinder ,“What’s best for Tobago tourism?” and beseech the Government to consider neighboring islands Antigua ,Barbuda, Grenada, St Lucia, Bahamas to understand negotiations with AI investors in accordance to the alignment to the tourism master plan , notwithstanding the policy framework for the island of Tobago. Furthermore, there is also a concern about the benefits from AI resorts to these destinations, as most times monies are leaked through ownership rights , goods, and services.
So it would be necessary to present a framework plan first as all-inclusive’s is simply a small segment of destination competitiveness, which cannot be misconstrued for a destination marketing plan to emerge on the world stage.
Another concern was expressed from an online petition made against the Government is a rumor that Sandals AI Resort have been offered a large environmental footprint of natural reserve, known fondly by locals, as No Man’s land-the soul of the island.
According to world indicators from international tourism forums, the top destinations that travelers are seeking offer authentic travel ,voluntarism and community integrity and cultural connectively. In other words, the uniqueness of destination Tobago is what the 21st century traveler is looking for- that little piece of paradise.
Tobago is in a position to differentiate from the rest of the Caribbean and therefore tourism advisors should encourage the push theory in responsible sustainable tourism planning in the tourism vision framework – focus on the mangrove rehabilitation programs at low lands and at No man’s land ; consider recycling programs , sewerage and water treatment; develop the authenticity of cultural heritage programs and local cuisine; add more foot paths and cycle paths ; improve craftsmen ;improve farming; improve services and sites; reduce crime , noise and refuse.
Consider Maldives, a little island considered one of the top luxurious destinations in the world having maintained her environmental foot print and destination differentiation in the world. Maldives have taken into consideration the sensitivity of the environment in their framework: Integrating tourism sensitivity by engaging public /private meetings; Encouraged developers to compete to increase standards of accommodation and services; Provided legislation to control development of resorts through Environmental Impact Assessment; Negotiated with resort owners to Install Plastic Compressors, Incinerators to manage waste and Sewerage Waste Management; Encouraged AI resorts to manage water supply without interference of water reserves; Ensured that land developers purchase local material and construct by visually blending with the environment; and Provided allocations of 20% for building, height restrictions, beach allocation of at least 20% for public use.
In my perspective, Sandals is great as a vacation option for Tobago as there exist a synergistic fit for Sandals romantic getaway resort with the sultry beauty of Tobago. But I will reemphasize here that resorts are more successful when planned within the tourism framework of the destination. So let’s be clear, another vacation option in Tobago is long overdue and it is expected that negotiators have a feasible projection for the islands financial, social and environmental growth.
Author: Lisa Shandilya, MBA.(Specialized), CEM., B.Sc., 20 years Practitioner in the Hospitality and Service Sector, Member of THRTA, International Hospitality and Service Industry .
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