ON MONDAY, Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Secretary of Tourism, Culture and Antiquities Tashia Burris put forward a great idea.
Addressing tourism stakeholders at the World Travel Market 2022 in London, England, Ms Burris called for the Caribbean to be marketed as one destination.
“They talk about multi-destination tourism,” she said. “That is something Tobago can begin to benefit from.”
It might seem counterintuitive to suggest islands that compete for tourist dollars come together to attract visitors.
And while we are close geographically, life could not be further apart.
Tobago is not the same as Barbados or Jamaica. Each has a different history and culture. Each has something unique to offer and, in theory, each attracts different market segments.
Though there are cruise ship connections, hopping between the islands is also not straightforward, especially if travelling by air. Each nation has its own entry requirements.
But there is strength in numbers.
Ms Burris makes a good point when she notes the Caribbean is competing against other destinations that work as a bloc.
“We’re competing against destinations in the Pacific, competing against destinations in Asia, competing among destinations like Hawaii for example,” she said. “When we look at what we can do individually, it’s not as much as if we can get together and collectively sell the Caribbean as a region.”
A North American tourist considering where to vacation, might opt for a flight to Europe, knowing that entry there results in seamless travel among the different countries of that continent.
It makes complete sense, therefore, to call, as Ms Burris has, for a Caribbean single-entry visa.
It also makes sense to improve inter-island infrastructure which should be far stronger in any event.
Cooperating on tourism need not result in our differences being glossed over.
On the contrary, such a united approach would depend on each island enhancing its uniqueness to better draw visitors. For a change, the differences between us might do some good.
Working together would also result in economies of scale. Being one large, diverse attraction might, for example, draw more people and make it more feasible for more airlines to come to the region.
Yet as attractive as the idea is, Tobago will never benefit from it as long as it fails to address its hospitality standards. It needs to do some deep study and introspection to see whether there is room for improvement in that area.
It also needs to figure out what kind of destination it wishes to be.
For example, THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, speaking at the same event on Monday, saw no contradiction in his desire to “monetise” the island’s “unspoilt” status.
In recent times, he has also seen no link with his administration’s lax approach to environmental rules and the potentially hazardous tourism trade.
It will take more than just talk of unity – which, when it comes to socio-economic matters, the Caricom bloc has struggled to get off the ground – to transform Tobago’s tourism prospects.