While hoteliers in north Trinidad are reporting a successful Carnival season, for Tobago this was not the case.
Major hotels and even the smaller establishments in Port-of-Spain told the Sunday Business Guardian they had between 90 to 100 per cent occupancy rates, some even being completely booked in advance.
However, for the sister island occupancy was generally around 65 per cent. Bed and breakfast facilities noted a mixture of responses with figures as low as 20 per cent in some instances.
Tourism Minister Randall Mitchell said while his ministry is still awaiting official data from the CSO, early indications placed the number of visitor arrivals by air at 30,000 people.
“These are people not travelling on T&T passports, and travelling for the 19-day period up to Carnival Tuesday,” Mitchell explained.
He said the number of visitor arrivals this year was always likely to be less compared to 2020 and the preceding years because fewer flights were coming in this year.
“Many persons who wanted to enjoy Carnival celebrations simply could not get flights,” Mitchell said.
On the feedback thus far from tourism stakeholders, the Tourism Minister said this was good.
In particular, the experience from the Royal Caribbean Epic Carnival Cruise has been generally good, Mitchell said, adding that the promoter has booked his berth for next year.
“This was a particularly innovative initiative as it mitigated both the air transportation issues as well as the accommodation supply issues that we traditionally experience around Carnival time.
“The Carnival period provided a welcome boost to those who serve the tourism industry which is mainly a labour-intensive one,” Mitchell added.
With the capital being the main hub of Carnival activities, hotels like Hyatt were sold out almost a year in advance.
Lisa Shandilya, owner of the Chancellor Hotel in St Ann’s, said when Government gave the assurance that Carnival 2023 was a go, her hotel was flooded with calls for accommodation.
“By July 2022 I was sold out. We had one group who had no other choice but to cancel in December 2022 leaving two rooms available. We had 100 per cent foreign bookings, with 10 per cent being diaspora,” Shandilya said.
Additionally, she noted that about 60 per cent of her clientèle comprised return guests from the USA and UK who also brought their friends to visit Trinidad for Carnival.
Additionally, Shandilya said during the week of Carnival–from the Wednesday before to Carnival Monday and Tuesday–Chancellor had many requests from foreigners who wanted to move out from Airbnbs. Another noticeable change, Shandilya added was that her hotel moved from 14-night accommodation stay to seven nights or five nights.
In sharing general observations about the Carnival period Shandilya said St Ann’s was quiet with not many foreigners walking or milling around at the Savannah which perhaps mirrored bigger issues the authorities need to examine.
“I had many guests ask about safety protocols, especially female travellers. We did not get any notice or information from the Trinidad Tourism Ltd or from the National Carnival Commission to provide our guests with links to activities,” Shandilya explained.
This, she said showed that there seemed to be a “huge gap” among the stakeholders and the tourism and culture governing agencies to share information which it turn, can make it a more seamless experience for guests and for the sector on the whole.
According to Shandilya hoteliers, therefore, were left with no choice but to do their own research, and prepare links and guidance for guests.
“Culture is a major aspect of Carnival. Where do I send guests to immerse themselves in a Carnival museum?” Shandilya said noting that the, “Mother of all Carnivals ‘hype’ was a showcase of nothing less than spectacular.”
Going forward, she advised more must be done to lift the standard.
“And this is our downfall with labelling events and not coming up to the desired level of professional standards. I must also stress there is no inclusion for differently-abled people to enjoy Carnival.
“We have to start building quality and standards, and people must see improvements year after year, so we ‘the people’ would become part of the process. I heard the Minister say that they would have stats however, statisticians weren’t visible. I thought they would have taken this year seriously to gather data to help direct and shape the future of Carnival,” Shandilya said.
Like other establishments in the capital, The Brix also reported a full house.
Owner John Aboud told the Sunday Business Guardian that his businesses also had 100 per cent occupancy with mostly foreigners from North America who stayed from Carnival Friday to Ash Wednesday.
The Normandie Hotel was also completely sold out with guests from the diaspora and foreigners.
Tobago reported smaller numbers
Immediate past president of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association Chris James said while the island recorded a general occupancy of about 65 per cent, these were mostly domestic tourists.
On what this said about foreign arrivals this year James said British Airways numbers, however, are up, adding that Tobago continues its marketing plans and expects higher international figures.
Smaller hoteliers reported a range of occupancy levels from totally booked to average levels and in some cases, below normal stays.
Kay Trotman, president of The Unique Bed and Breakfast and Self Catering, who shared numbers from Carnival Friday to Carnival Tuesday explained, “There were some people who were fully booked but they were small in numbers. So because we are the under five people when we say we are fully booked we have ranging from people who were fully booked for the period, to those who did not have anything at all.”
She added some owners had between 30 to 40 per cent of bookings because guests did not stay for the entire Carnival weekend, also noting that the majority of guests came from Trinidad and did not take part in Carnival but rather came for camping.
“Some establishments had foreign visitors but these are the return visitors who came not necessarily for Carnival but people who came for the period and they return to the guesthouses they are familiar with,” Trotman said.
The majority of the Trotman’s membership consists of under eight rooms and these had between 40 to 50 per cent occupancy during the Carnival period.
Those which offered eight to 15 rooms reported about 20 per cent occupancy.
According to Trotman stays have not returned to pre-COVID levels.
She attributed this to the country “getting off to a late start” when borders reopened.
“This country was among the last to open its borders so people would have already made bookings or determine where their vacation would be spent prior to when our borders were reopened and normally people coming for Carnival have to plan long in advance,” Trotman explained.
Noting that Tobago is not necessarily a liming spot for Carnival Trotman is however, hopeful that the post-season will be much better.
On whether the authorities were doing enough to properly market the island she said while they are doing their part “within reason” she suggested they come up with novel ideas to boost visitor arrivals.
“It is almost as if we are starting from the beginning. The Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd has been reintroducing Tobago into the travel space and some of that would take some time time to pick-up but we should already be looking at bookings for next year,” Trotman suggested.