The best kept secret

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There has been according to a statistical survey a decline of stop over visitor arrival to Trinidad and Tobago (TnT) by approximately 5 % in 2014 with almost the same growth path for 2015. Basically, the stats for total visitor arrival for TnT is 414,447 for an average of 6000 room stock with an average rate of spend less than US$100.00 per day with the highest captive market from United States and Europe. Now, if one wants to estimate using basic calculations, it would mean both islands may have had 69 visitor arrivals per night for a 365 calendar year. In reality, visitor arrivals are normally based on activities on the islands, such as carnival, tradeshows, conferences or for a sporting event, this therefore suggests that there are months in which hotels and guesthouses are faced with empty rooms.  This sporadic inventory cannot sustain the tourism and travel industry as shown by the discerning records from World Travel and Tourism Council Report 2015 with 3.2% GDP for travel and tourism supporting approximately 72,500 jobs directly and indirect related operations

The picture of the statistics in the industry has not changed in any way over the years and therefore this non impressive account require more thought into becoming a real contributor for our economy. Yet every year thousands of dollars is spent on marketing to increase the tourism on the islands. Only this year 2015, a proactive action was taken to improve on statistical data that would be relevant to the industry and I applaud the Minister of Tertiary Education for signing the memorandum of understanding with Arthur Lok Jack to conduct research on the tourism and entertainment sector.

The premise of this article is not to blame any institution or body but to give insight into whether the failure of our international marketing campaigns can be a combination of the performance of the marketing by international representatives, the institutional congruence that lacks the synergy in a focused marketing effort, the human talent mandated to work cohesively with stakeholders to effectively promote the tourism product and, or the bureaucracy of government

Every year, the tourism authority sets aside a budget for international marketing representation for the proverbial “P” in the marketing mix that includes:  public relations, personal selling, sales promotion, advertising and social media communication. The TDC is mandated to fund international representatives to promote the destinations Trinidad & Tobago, as a unitary state. Within recent years the THA also included separate funding for which they have awarded contracts for international representation to market Tobago. Whereas the logic is plausible by both parties in their own reasoning to have this approach in marketing Tobago as a destination, and Trinidad and Tobago as another, there somehow seems to be a gap to achieve the common objective, which is, to increase visitor arrival and visitor spend on both islands.

Maybe an idealistic perspective but I can only presume that stakeholders via their associations THRTA and THRA together with governmental agencies TDC and THA would have worked together to review the amalgam of tourism products to fuel ideas for a marketing strategy. From this outcome,  an integrated marketing approach with TDC and the international representatives would then be forged to get their input in what “P” strategies would best work to achieve market favorability ,aided by the government influencers bridging relationships with transport of airlift and cruise travel to attain the desired outcome. Thus, the use of international representatives, tourism ambassadors and state ambassadors would become two key ways of reaching international markets to promote the destinations with the Ministry of Tourism being the umbrella institution governing the success of the plan.

Recently, TDC hosted an event for international overseas representatives to give stakeholders of Trinidad and Tobago, an insight into their marketing strategies for 2015-2017 with a thrust in six source markets, Germany, United Kingdom, Scandinavia, India, Canada and the USA.

The international representatives whose contracts were renewed are familiar with the workings of the TDC and the THA and therefore it was interesting that their plans had no underpinning of performance factors and sustainable models that could increase market share based on the sluggish market growth.

All the foreign representatives at the event had well presented interactive promotional strategies using social media, brand ambassadors, advertising material, mascots to name a few,  that would be used to influence the traveller to our shores. But, in my humble opinion the foreign representatives seemed somewhat confused as to which destination they were promoting.

For instance, the representatives for the European market stated that they were having difficulty to package the islands because of the issue of “Jack Warner corruption charges”, the increased crime rate, and airlift issues. Without evidence of the crime issue or an assessment in less than one week after Warner was officially charged cannot be the reason for forecasted non performance otherwise I share my concern with the reason they were rehired. The representative from Scandinavia, however, showed an increased interest for Tobago market however disclosed that there was some difficulty with information to promote destination Trinidad. From discussions with her, it seemed that there are intrinsic marketing approaches that one can explore but somehow no one is keenly responding to her enthusiasm. India representative was new to exploring the saleability of the islands but it requires constant massaging to get the right mix of strategies to increase market potential.

The Canadian representative informed stakeholders of successful trade shows and familiarisation tours and further advised that only two tour companies from Canada, Ali-tours and Total Vacations are both operators that have shown peaked interest in promoting the destination. According to a TDC marketing specialist the Canadian tour operators would select particular hotels and operators in T&T that fit their criteria of target market which is either 5 or 4 star properties. It was unfortunate that neither the Canadian rep nor the TDC market specialist were able to qualify their success in representation of the twin island products yet there are intentions to do another resoundingly successful campaign sometime in August 2015.  They also spoke to the resounding success that West Jet Airlines is having. This was indeed surprising since West Jet has discontinued a daily service to one every other day, a detail that the representative was either unaware of or simply ignored.

The US representative keenly promoted bird watching and MICE marketing initiatives; they are also in charge of Regatta online and social media linkages. Once again, there were no data and statistics on the present or forecasted MICE markets, Bird Watching markets with the alignment of accommodation or the success of sales with Regatta online. According to data, the US market is one of the most important for Trinidad and by extension Tobago and therefore I would expect that TnT should realise increased market share for 2015-2017 at least two fold since most of the funding is pegged to this source market and because of the availability of airlift.

Marketing is indeed a very expensive project and therefore there must be some performance measures that would give clarity on whether the communication message is effectively transmitted to the wider audience, otherwise I suspect that taxpayer dollar is being spent on keeping TnT as the best kept secret in the Caribbean.


What tourism policy?

      What is Haiti’s strategy to re-invent the island’s tourism sector to attain private-equity firms to invest in hotels, resorts and transportation projects after years of political struggles, financial impropriety and natural disasters?

Barbados, on the other hand, under the successive stewardship of Ministers Miller and Lynch, developed aggressive policies that positively impacted the island’s tourism sector ranking the island as one of the top Caribbean destinations.

Theoretically, a tourism policy is a component from a national model and should be regulated by the public sector. It is a working document that identifies future projections of tourism receipts beyond government conjunctures.

What the tourism policy attempts to do is to provide a clear plan of action from short, medium to long term goals; to identify destination targets of travel for cultural, trade and other pertinent business which translates to economic benefit for the country; to build well informed customers that will promote the product of the islands; to interest investors, to improve on the heritage and culture of the people; to develop infrastructure; to secure financial funding to support projects, and to build a more sustainable tourism. However, the tourism policy cannot be static as the tourism sector is dynamic in nature therefore recommending that reviews are done to tweak the actions plan to accommodate change.

Research has shown that partially funded tourism organisations work on tourism receipts and sales quotas to fund the organisation. These organisations cannot be lapsed in their strategic marketing efforts otherwise they will fold. Almost all smaller destinations in the world and the Caribbean manage their tourism operations from the state support. Evidently successful public tourism organisations must have the political will to access resources to improve competitiveness to achieve the national tourism goal.

A tourism policy cannot be copied and adapted to a destination, especially if a destination is to offer a unique and identifiable product offering in a global market place. Recently, a comment was posed to the Minister of Finance at a post-budget debate 2014, suggesting that Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) should adopt the Dubai model for development of our island tourism product based on the premise that both nations are owners of non-renewable energy. Agreeably Dubai, in a space of thirteen years managed to quadruple its inbound tourist arrivals being the most luxurious and sort after destination in the world. However, it should be noted that the tourism component was not in isolation for Dubai’s aggressive action for their country.

The fact is , Trinidad and Tobago have been following models over the years , the pre-colonial system of governance and the fatally adopted western world ideologies, a toxic combination,  without critical reflection of what, why, how or where our island’s should be in the long term.

For any model to be effective it requires strong private/public sector relationship that is beneficial for investors, communities, culture and heritage, economy, environment and the human resources. Additionally, researched data have shown that government and the tourism public sector advisers or leaders must be of a futuristic ilk with a clear vision for the country and its populace for tourism development.

For instance, Prime Minister of T&T, Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissessar, at the start of her tenure engaged several international audiences in Asia, London, New York, Panama and Brazil promoting T&T. Who should have channeled these efforts? Is this a failure of her government or the failure of the management of the state enterprise mandated to market the destination?

Perhaps one should question whether Trinidad and Tobago have a national framework of which one of the components is the national tourism policy? One can argue that Trinidad and Tobago has a national tourism policy ( which was drafted in 2008 and published in 2010; and there is also a tourism act, 2000 (minor updates in 2006).

Researchers within the Caribbean highlighted in several published articles, a series of on-going challenges which has positioned T&T at a standstill in destination performance.

The first issue is the weak congruent relationships among the three public tourism institutions which has had conflicts in driving tourism as a unified voice that is glaringly evident in the marketing strategies for the islands. The second challenge is that decisions are ad hoc without alignment to a policy which has had projects at a stalemate thereby increasing financial costs. This was evident with the incentive plans, the green globe project, the blue flag project and the recent “tOURism is about us” marketing campaign to name a few. And finally, the politics, which seem to be a major contributor to the weaknesses of tourism not only in T&T. Issues , such as, nepotism of the Government in power, the internal politics within public tourism organisations and the profiteering pseudo consultants are some common occurrences faced by the sector.  According to research many wielding the power in state owned tourism enterprises, are not necessarily the politicians, but those with agendas who are retained as advisers irrespective of government in power, whose intent is to keep the system at a stalemate for their own prosperity.

Therefore, Is T&T national tourism policy well designed and effective to fuel our national tourism goals?  Perhaps, more research is needed to identify which simulated model is practiced by the state owned tourism organisation in T&T : 1. “Cart before the horse” model  whereby  plans or incentives are introduced for the sector by ignoring the  bureaucratic formalities; 2. “The Knee Jerk”  model ,whereby the industry becomes reactive rather than proactive in a crisis; 3. “The Clueless” model whereby the workforce in the tourism organisations do not have the passion or skill sets to be involved in tourism;  4. “The oil syndrome” model whereby tourism funds are  hemorrhaged without understanding whether it will impact on increased tourism receipts; and  5. “The blame game” model whereby everyone point fingers at the sitting government and opposition without either side validating measures to diversify the sector.

In reflection, transformation of the tourism sector can be driven in T&T once the leadership embraces the complexity of the industry to deliver innovative ideas through a well-designed framework of a national tourism policy with performance measures regulated by an established team of knowledgeable public/ private sector partners. Just saying!