Interview with Tracy Davidson-Celestine, deputy chief secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly

Interview with Tracy Davidson-Celestine, deputy chief secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly Photo: Tobago House of Assembly

Tracy Davidson-Celestine is the deputy chief secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly – the second-highest political office in Tobago – and secretary with responsibilities for tourism and transportation. She spoke to The Report Company about the unique positioning of Tobago as a "clean, green, safe and serene" tourism destination, and outlined the main challenges and opportunities the island faces.

The Report Company: What is the overall image of Tobago as a destination for tourism, and how would you like it to be perceived?

Tracy Davidson-Celestine: I think that one of the things that we have recognised is that the perception of Tobago is what we actually sell. Most of the visitors that I have spoken to see it to be an island that is tranquil, and they see it as one that is safe, that is clean and green. This fits into what we actually sell; Tobago is authentic, it is rustic, and it is an island that is clean, green, safe and serene. In keeping with people’s perceptions, Tobago as an island is focused heavily on ecotourism, it utilises its natural essence and is really unspoiled and untouched.

TRC: What sets Tobago apart as a destination?

TDC: A lot of people are now looking at responsible travel and sustainable tourism. This fits directly into what Tobago has to offer. Our rainforest is the oldest in the western hemisphere and is very well protected. This sends a signal that we are moving in the right direction in terms of protecting our birds and our species. We encourage our guests to practice responsible behaviours to ensure that the destination is preserved for the current and future generations.

A large number of people now are looking for responsible destinations. Visitors, especially out of the UK, want peace and tranquillity in an unspoilt setting so that they can experience the culture and the life of the community, and Tobago has that to offer.

TRC: How important will global partnerships be to build up Tobago’s brand?

TDC: One of the things that I recognise is the need for a lot of networks and alliances in order to advance tourism in the country. That is why the Tobago House of Assembly organises missions to other countries so that we can build relationships with people who can help spread the message about the destination. Here in the department for tourism and transportation alone, we engage over 300 international tour operators in Europe, in China, in North America, in Brazil, so that they can work with us in ensuring that Tobago is well known.

Tobago is authentic, it is rustic, and it is an island that is clean,
green, safe and serene
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TRC: What are the prevailing challenges facing the tourism sector?

TDC: First and foremost, we have to ensure that we have a level of infrastructure on the island that allows for a good tourism experience. We have had challenges with our airport for quite some time, but we are currently carrying out construction there to improve the operational efficiency and the aesthetics. We also need a bigger cruise facility, or one that can integrate better the flow of residents going to Trinidad as well as the flow of people who are coming in on the cruise ships. Outside of that, we need a stronger private sector that can encourage more growth on the island. Currently, most of what we do in the sector is undertaken by the Tobago House of Assembly, and so we want the private sector to take charge and become that engine of growth in Tobago’s economy. I feel that if we were able to have those infrastructural projects combined with the collaboration from the private sector, then we should be able to give that experience to the guests that they so deserve.

TRC: What scope is there for foreign investment into the tourism sector?

TDC: We welcome investment. We have always said that Tobago is open for business, whether it be business from the UK, from Europe, from North America, or even from Trinidad. We try to encourage all of the private sector to be more entrepreneurial. We want to keep our destination as authentic and intimate as possible, so we don’t encourage the very large hotels. There are incentives for the sector, and apart from that there is also the loan guarantee programme where the government basically provides a financial backing for a loan taken from the private sector to invest in any tourism-related activity.

We will have a new flight from Manchester from November 2016,
which will open up more opportunities
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TRC: How can Tobago diversify its tourism offering?

TDC: Medical tourism is taking our attention now, although this will require a certain type of planning as we check whether the hospital as it is can facilitate it. Wellness tourism is also another area that we can focus on, given the fact that Tobago is perfectly well-suited to this type of tourism. Sports tourism is another area that we have moved into, however we have not yet realised our full potential, and that is as a result of the lack of facilities on the island.

TRC: How important is the UK market to Tobago?

TDC: The British market is an important market for Tobago. It is one of our traditional source markets. About 50 percent of all international guests come from the UK, and we are continuing to forge alliances, trying to maintain those that we currently have, incentivising them where possible, so that they can continue to help us with our market penetration efforts as much as possible. We will have a new flight from Manchester from November 2016, which will open up more opportunities.

TRC: What would you like to achieve during your time in this role?

TDC: For me, my legacy would be to try to restore tourism to where it was back in 2006 where we had cruise arrivals in the vicinity of 90,000 passengers, where we had endless flights coming out from the United Kingdom, from Curacao and even from the Caribbean islands. My legacy would also be to have more of the private sector on board, being more entrepreneurial, coming up with creative and innovative ways of creating sites and attractions and consistently upgrading their product so that people see that Tobago always has something different and something fresh to offer.

Interview with Tracy Davidson-Celestine, deputy chief secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly

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In association with The Island of Tobago

This article was published 2 February 2016
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