Opening Doors

The week’s highlight for those involved in the travel and tourism industry was the annual World Travel Market (WTM) here in London.  I was at WTM to attend seminars on travel technology and better understand trends in the European market.  However, in the early afternoon, I escaped for about an hour to look for some familiar faces at the Trinidad and Tobago booth.

As usual, I felt proud to see that the T&T booth was a strong contender for the best destination booth.  I am sure that the Tourism Development Company (TDC) will upload some pictures onto their website in time – so do take a look.  Present were Brian Lara, Dwight Yorke, and Anya Ayoung Chee.  Together with the food and soft drinks, the presence of these three celebrities made all passersby feel welcome.

When tourism decision-makers slip up, we are quick to call for blood.  I believe that it is only fair that when they do something good, it should be acknowledged.  Congratulations to the team behind the WTM presentation.  At the same time, some local stakeholders were dissatisfied.  While they admit that the destination’s presence at WTM was top class, they were concerned by the low number of business appointments.  They met the same faces as the previous year—the same faces were sending fewer guests.  There were no new prospects.  All the glitz aside, the industry is still in decline.  In fact, one stakeholder was adamant that the event’s success must be judged by the amount of new business it generates for the people of Trinidad and Tobago over the next year, not by any awards the booth may attract.

This got me thinking about the role of the state in a large event like WTM.  In my mind, the state’s role is to open the door and facilitate the local stakeholders in doing business with operators in the UK and Europe.  With the greatest respect, I noted that some stakeholders did not venture beyond the booth, did not engage with visitors who passed by, and did not take advantage of the many free seminars on offer.
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The travel and tourism industry is becoming increasingly aggressive and it is no longer possible to sit back and expect business to come flowing in.  We all have to get up and get passed ere some booted, and all I had to do was glance in their direction any lunged at me with their sales pitch.  That is what it means to fight for business.  Regardless, let us see what the next year delivers.

One destination that knows how to fight for new business is Jamaica.  Again, they are by no means perfect and have many issues to deal with but they clearly take tourism very seriously.  In the October 27th edition of the Jamaican Observer, the government announced its intention to embark on a radical new tourism strategy based in part on the 2007 Cricket World Cup special visa system.  The article notes that in a bid to create a “critical mass” to attract visitors from the booming Asian market, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett is calling for Caribbean nations to form a visa union allowing passengers to travel to several countries on a single document.

This system would resemble the 25-country Schengen-zone in Europe or the temporary system set up four years ago to allow cricket fans to easily travel to watch matches in a dozen West Indian countries.  Officials hope the multi-destination visa will encourage Asian long-haul passengers to spend several weeks in the region, visiting different countries with dramatically different cultures.

I do not have the space and time to emphasize just how important the Asian market is to the Caribberegion’s future.  Jamaica was among the first to realize it and I am glad they are following it through.  Island egos – especially egos that are afraid to relinquish their tiny fiefdom, are the only risk here.  FortunatTDC, despite its challenges, TDC s, would not be accused of standing in the way of this initiative.  A press release on the TDC website dated March 16th 2011 announced plans for Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago to work together to promote the Caribbean region during the 2012 London Olympics.

To hear that my region is working together is a most beautiful melody. I pray that no little egos get in the way.  My name is Derren Joseph and I love my region and I love my country.  Despite its challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope in the future of our beloved nation.

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