STEPHON NICHOLAS and KINNESHA GEORGE-HARRY
Tobago Tourism Agency CEO Louis Lewis believes the island will now be better able to market itself following the completion of phase one of a tourism product audit. The agency said in a statement, the audit was intended to identify and analyse tourism product offerings on the island to determine Tobago’s strengths, gaps, and opportunities to make the destination more desirable to visitors.
This first phase of the audit focused on accommodation offerings and included a database review, direct engagement with service providers, and the collection of data through a tourism industry registry.
Led by a three-member team, the agency determined Tobago has at least 3,700 rooms, offered by 580 properties. These properties include large hotels and villas, small properties offering bed and breakfast services, as well as a number of self-catering establishments.
Speaking to Business Day on Monday, Lewis said the first phase of the audit took close to three months to complete through a thorough search process. Apart from businesses that were already registered, he said the agency scoured websites, conducted site visits and spoke to tour operators to come up with that figure.
Lewis said what was most alarming was that 80 per cent of the places of accommodation did not have a modern website to interact with potential clients, make reservations and complete payment.
Lewis said, "How do we get the marketing to work? Four-fifths of them do not have a transactional web presence. Some of them are on those websites like Expedia and Booking and it gives brief information, but it is not persuasive. Others have a web page but it cannot close a sale."
Asked whether marketing initiatives in the past were hitting and hoping without proper data, Lewis elaborated, "From my assessment, it was more hit and miss. We have accommodation places complaining they are not getting business like before, but inside of that there is another story. We have a slogan, 'Come to Tobago, untouched, unspoilt, waiting to be discovered,' but some of them are undiscoverable. If our marketing entices someone to come to Tobago, you can't find a property (online)," he said.
Lewis said although the airbridge and seabridge woes had hurt Tobago's tourism, "we are also losing by being invisible."
Responding on Tuesday, Christopher James, president of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA), said the association spoke with Lewis last week on a number of issues and shared its plans to offer training to those members who do not use social media or online travel agents.
James said the association's list of accommodation only includes 461 properties with a total of 3,704 rooms. Of the properties on their list, he said 380 of them were smaller establishments (eight rooms and under) and provided 1,378 rooms.
"The larger 81 properties have 2,326 rooms and were much more active, so we plan the focus on the smaller properties in the first instance,” he said.
James said the THTA is using its Tobagolime.com promotion “to encourage those not on social media to see the benefits of the training we are offering and after last week’s successful roadshow in Trinidad and the online questionnaire just how useful online interaction can be not only to gain bookings but to understand what the custom wants when vacationing in Tobago.”
Asked whether the agency would offer an incentive to encourage property owners to become more modern, Lewis responded: "If I'm in the tourism business, I would do what is necessary to make myself competitive and not wait on anyone."
He also noted that a key element in these development efforts will be the attainment of tourism standards certification, which is another initiative being piloted by the agency in collaboration with the TT Bureau of Standards, through the TT Tourism Certification (TTTIC) programme.
TTTIC provides assurance to visitors that tourism operators and their businesses meet standards of minimum requirements related to a product or service. This includes standards related to quality, infrastructure, regulations, and health and safety.
The agency will continue the audit with focus on other key areas of the tourism industry, including sites and attractions, events and festivals, and natural resources.
The research will provide the evidence base for a more detailed strategy and plan for improving the tourism product on the island in alignment with the new Go to Market strategy established by the agency.