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Moving tourism forward: TDC chairman weighs in
George Stanley Beard knows how to tell a story. He has context and history seemingly at his fingertips: from his lifetime’s dabble as a geography teacher and a 12-year stint as a politician. But it’s his baritone, more instructive than artful, that piques interest. These days, as chairman of the Tourism Development Company (TDC), he’s been charged with selling the story of T&T.
That position didn’t come without its fair amount of criticism: what does a 59-year-old teacher from the Mason Hall Government School in Tobago, albeit the chairman of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), have to offer the TDC? When the question was posed to him in this Business Guardian interview, Beard heartily laughed.
Telling his own story is effortless. His attributes, as he lists them, are numerous: he’s an A-class cook with green fingers, geography has instilled in him a discipline and world view, as a former secretary of tourism for the Tobago House of Assembly, he’s had the experience of marketing Tobago and is a traveller at heart.
That, he believes, is enough to slay the naysayers. More convincing, though, was when he pointed out that the best asset he brings to the table is the fact that he’s Tobagonian. Why? “Tobagonians understand tourism. It’s part of the culture. It’s their bread and butter, something which is not appreciated here.” The THA-led island suffered negatively from the Peter and Muriam Green attack and the publicity which followed with hoteliers complaining about empty rooms.
“Tobago’s problem now is that the tourism industry was never regulated or controlled and it just functioned that way.” He believes, and he’s open to discussion on the topic, that when a country seeks to attract tourists, it must temper the crime on the front pages of its daily newspaper. He doesn’t object to the reporting of crime, but, not splashed on the front pages.
This, Beard said, does not happen in the hot tourist spots of Barbados or Jamaica. He’s hoping to work in partnership with the media on this with planned monthly news conferences. Beard, like his predecessors, is hoping to change people’s view of tourism by changing the way it is branded. Can such a feat ever really be accomplished, given this country’s energy wealth? It can, if it’s done the right way, he said.
Marketing tourism, as Beard sees it, is a year-round thing. His vision encompasses a jazz festival in T&T, opening the pan yards, but not just at Carnival times, capitalising on indigenous cuisine, promoting outdoor activities and marketing Trinidad’s north coast. In addition, he is introducing a quarterly cluster chairman meeting, which includes the heads of Caribbean Airlines, The Entertainment Company, the Business Development Company and the Airports Authority of T&T.
Beard said there are synergies to be harnessed when all entities operate with a goal in mind, for visitor arrivals obviously, and their marketing strategies are in sync. “All the people of the country need to come together so you can actually see where the trickle down takes place.” How does the TDC intend to capitalise on Carnival, which has been labelled T&T’s best ever? By being cutthroat enough to seize the opportunities that nature or political unrest have presented to other countries. One country’s tragedy could be T&T’s bonanza.
“People go to Egypt to dive but, tourists would be wary of going there. We now have to put diving packages together for Tobago.” The same would apply to tourism in the Asian countries, Beard said. After the devastating impact of an 8.9 magnitude earthquake, the subsequent tsunami and nuclear radiation concerns in Japan, Beard expects that fewer tourists are likely to be heading toward Asia.
Now, he said, is the time to for T&T to be more aggressive in its tourism marketing drive. As to whether Carnival in October was a good pull, Beard didn’t want to comment on a political decision. His lone contribution on the subject was that stretching Carnival to October was a bit too early if the goal was to attract the winter crowd. The company first has to acquire a new president as former president Ernest Littles resigned two weeks ago. Lara de Sonpere-Roberts, the TDC’s divisional manager, legal and administration, who is also the sister-in-law of Sport Minister Anil Roberts, will act as the interim president.
“We’ve inherited a lot of aging products which have not kept abreast of the times, so we have to be a lot more innovative and creative. And, furthermore, we have to cater for all age groups in our marketing,” Beard said.
The Tourism Development Company installed a new board on November 17, 2010.
Chairman: George Stanley Beard
Vice-chairman: Larry Nath
Board of directors:
Kevin Kenny, president of the Trinidad Hotels, Restaurants and Tourism Association;
Michelle Palmer Kezier, attorney
Kevin Ratiram; attorney
Reisha Ramnarine Lewis, marketing and brand management specialist;
Judith Mark, GM, Chaguaramas Development Authority;
Alimuddin Mohammed, businessmen
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