Friday, December 15, 2017

Earning T&T’s share of Chinese tourism boom

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Mark Fraser

 For those with ears to hear,  and there should be many in both Trinidad and Tobago, the message has been received of a bright promise in tourist arrivals from China. As a result of the state visit last month by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and delegation, following the visit here last year by Chinese President Xi Jinping, prospects for economic relations inevitably stir new interest.

Tourism, it turns out, could be an immediately productive focus of such interest in ties between T&T and the Caribbean and the surging Asian powerhouse that China represents. The T&T representatives were still working the beat in China, in a trip highlighted by the raising of the national flag at the new Beijing embassy, when tourism opportunities were otherwise being flagged here in the Caribbean. 

 At a forum in Barbados last month, US international economics expert C Fred Bergsten urged Caribbean readiness to receive some of the “tsunami of Chinese tourists flooding the world over the next several decades”.  Dr Bergsten cited “game-changing” possibilities in gearing Caribbean promotion and preparation to profitably deriving a piece of the Chinese tourism action.

His advice necessarily resonates more in Barbados and other Caricom places far more tourism-dependent than T&T. But this country, at least theoretically concerned with diversifying away from its own energy dependence, is hardly in a position to pass up growth opportunities for its tourism sector. 

More pointedly last week, a letter from the Caribbean-China Friendship Association called for an “immediate focus on vigorously promoting T&T as a tourist destination in China”. The letter was signed by China-resident, T&T-born, Lisa Sankar-Zhu, as chairperson of the association.

 Ms Sankar-Zhu, once a contributing writer to the Express, hailed the opening of this country’s Beijing embassy as an enabling factor in promoting economic and other ties. Her letter also expressed confidence in the T&T “attractions that could potentially lure a part of the growing number of Chinese travellers to our shores”.  

From at least two reliable sources, then, it’s now being proposed that the large numbers of Chinese willing and able to seek new tourism experiences, represent a market to be targeted by Trinidad, by Tobago, and by the rest of the  Caribbean. 

This is a message that could be ignored only at the medium and long-term cost of T&T. It is for the new embassy to keep the T&T brand in high visibility. It is for the T&T destination, however, to ensure that the Chinese tourists’ experience lives up to expectations and delivers value for money. Realising such benefits as could be derived from Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar’s state visit, calls for enlightened and concerted effort in Port of Spain, in Scarborough, and in Beijing.