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Public fears being stranded
Although the country is now at the height of the Easter season, which is usually one of the busiest and economically viable periods in Tobago, the seabridge woes’ debilitating effects are continuing to be felt as visitor arrivals continue their downward trend on the island.
Tobago Tourism and Hotels Association (TTHA) president Chris James told the T&T Guardian yesterday that while it was too early to give exact figures, many tourism stakeholders had been reporting several cancellations and lower occupancy levels at what has traditionally been one of their busiest periods of the year. He said it was clear the issues on the seabridge continue to have a negative impact on the Tobago economy
“Presently, it looks like 38 per cent occupancy, but we are still having a few cancellations and we are also having walk-ins. We won’t know the exact figures until later on this week, but that is much lower than normal. Going back a few years, we would have had one hundred per cent occupancy,” James said.
James said despite the efforts by Caribbean Airlines to pick up the slack of the non-operational inter-island ferries, people are still having problems getting to island, while some are afraid to take chance for fear of being stranded after the festivities are over.
“The seabridge is the main contributor to this, because of course as much as Caribbean Airlines is trying to help, we appreciate that, there’s no way they can replace what would have normally come. Don’t forget the travelling on the seabridge is also reduced because of the lack of confidence,” he said.
“The seabridge could easily bring six or seven hundred people at a time and in years gone past, we would have had three or four sailings per day during the Easter period. There’s no way Caribbean Airlines could make it work, but also there is a tremendous lack of confidence of Trinidadians attempting to come to Tobago, so it has dropped.”
He said due to the number of people on the island, he was also expecting a lower turn out at the Easter flagship events, including the goat and crab racing at Mt. Pleasant today and Buccoo tomorrow.
James said he continues to be in constant contact with Tobago House of Assembly Secretary for Tourism and Culture Nadine Stewart-Phillips as they work together, along with CAL, to bring as many people to the island. He said while the annual average has been 30 per cent for Tobago over the past years, other parts of the region is seeing 60 to 70 per cent.
“We are way down on what we expect to do and want to do. It’s a combination, what’s happened really is that international arrivals is stagnated. We had high international arrivals back in 2005 of over 87,000, and last year and the year before we only reached 19,000 and that’s why we have become so dependent on the domestic market,” James said.
“The reason for the drop in internationals is the lack of destination marketing, but now with the new Tourism Agency, they have put forward a plan that we would have agreed on as an association and stakeholders and we want to see the rolling out of that, which would mean we would get additional international flights... They are going after West Jet in Canada, a Jet Blue flight from the USA and an Apollo flight from Scandinavia.”
James said they were now hoping for a better winter season.
The T&T Guardian also understands that several scheduled parties on the island on Friday and Saturday experienced losses due to poor a turnout, while others carded for today have recorded low ticket sales.
Contacted for a comment on the continuing situation, recently appointed Tobago Chamber of Commerce chairman Claude Benoit confirmed visitor arrivals were indeed down. However, he said the chamber was still collecting statistical data before it makes an official statement. He said as soon the Easter holidays are over a more accurate synopsis would be given.
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