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How well do you really know your own homeland? Amidst the duties of work, paying bills and family responsibilities, as well as the reality of leaner economic times, many families are realising they can no longer afford to travel abroad for holidays. But does that mean a fun holiday is totally out of reach?
Not at all, according to many local tour operators and our own Ministry of Tourism. Whether you’re on a budget or just looking for a holiday closer to home, there are many options right here in T&T, from the stripped-down and spartan variety to more up-market getaways, depending on your interests, flexibility, curiosity, and pocketbooks. The beauty of the staycation is even more beautiful when you factor in the possible savings, the convenience of being able to fine-tune your experience, and the opportunity to rediscover—or even discover—the treasures right here that many of us often overlook.
Staycations are at the top of the list of current campaigns for the Ministry of Tourism, which last Thursday night (June 29) launched its Stay to Get Away domestic tourism campaign at Angostura House in Laventille. Minister of Tourism Shamfa Ashaki Cudjoe, in her keynote speech at the launch, said her ministry’s records show a great increase in the appeal of the staycation, the long weekend getaway and the domestic tourism experience in recent years.
The current Ministry of Tourism “Stay to Get Away” campaign runs from July 1 to August 31, offering diverse properties, tours and experiences well supported by an expanding network of local tourism businesses and stakeholders who are offering more affordable packages for the budget-conscious. There are also a few more expensive options, such as weekend hotel getaways, which are still more economic than the normal market price. Tour operators, restaurants, guesthouses and hotels have all come on board.
Minister Cudjoe noted that domestic tourism accounts for nearly one billion dollars annually, and that the year-round revenue earned from domestic tourists is what keeps many tourism businesses afloat in lean times.
She said Tobago remains a top destination: 382,761 people travelled from Trinidad to Tobago, while 123,619 people travelled from Tobago to Trinidad. This information is based on an Overnight Domestic Tourism Survey conducted by the Planning, Research and Evaluation Unit of the Tourism Development Company Limited for the period January to December 2015. The survey is conducted every two years.
The survey showed that Trinidadian residents vacationing in Tobago spent over TT$500 million in 2015, which translates to almost 70 per cent of the total domestic travel expenditure, Minister Cudjoe stated.
Cudjoe cited the survey’s findings revealed that T&T households went on more than 278,000 overnight domestic trips during 2015, at an average of two trips per household, which was an increase of 6.3 per cent from 2013.
Cudjoe said the leisure market (including sports, recreation, cultural activities and visiting friends/relatives) accounted for 35 per cent of all T&T domestic trips in 2015. And she noted that an average of TT$293.90 was spent each day on an overnight trip in 2015—which she said adds up to an estimated total domestic expenditure of TT$862,268,817 million.
The Tourism Minister recalled that last year’s Stay to Get Away drive involved partnerships with the National Trust, Lopinot Country Style Community Tourism, the Small Tourism Accommodation Owners Association, the national bus service (PTSC) and the T&T Tourist Transport Service Association, among other service providers. The National Trust tours and the PTSC’s Know Your Country tours proved the most popular ones last year, she said.
This year, there is a fair number of experiences on offer, including nature tours (Magic Mermaid Pool, Rio Seco Slash, turtle tours); birding tours (Northern Range package); and heritage tours (including tours to Five Islands, Butterfly Museum, the Merikins Experience, and re-discovering your Spanish heritage). There are also walking tours of Port-of-Spain, and futher afield in Brasso Seco, there are coffee and cocoa tours. There’s even a reforestation tour/experience for the ecologically minded, and a cultural immersion experience in “Trinbago traditions.” From rainforest ziplining to a countryside trip to Cedros, there is something to suit a wide range of tastes. (No literary tours yet, though.)
Cudjoe said to boost domestic tourism, better links need to be developed between diverse private sector organisations and service providers and other stakeholders, in order to offer the public better tourism packages. She conceded that the current sea transport problems between Tobago and Trinidad may challenge the domestic tourism campaign this year. “But those problems are being addressed and we expect some relief soon,” she said about the inter-island ferry issue.
“We have come a long way and we have a longer way to go,” she said, sketching future Tourism Ministry goals of extending the range of domestic tour options to include “Foodie” tours as well as experiences which consider the needs of the elderly and the disabled among us who also want to have a good time.
Among those at the campaign launch last Thursday night were Minister of Community Development, Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly; former THA Administrator, Ethel Berkley; Tourism Ministry Permanent Secretary, Vidiah Ramkhelawan; Interim Chief Executive Officer of the Tourism Development Company Limited, Cliff Hamilton; and members of community and tourism groups.
Here are just a few “Stay to Get Away” experiences. See the Facebook page #Staytnt for more options.
n Avocat Waterfalls and Rappel. $400. 9 am-5 pm. Includes land transport, guide, equipment and water. Guided bus tour through Maraval Valley, along North coast road to Avocat, followed by easy hike through rain forest to Avocat Falls, while learning of the area’s natural history. Swimming and rapelling from top of waterfall, if you feel daring.
n Lopinot Historical Estate Tour. $50 children, $65 adults. 9.30 am-2 pm. Tours run three times a week. Local legend Martin Gomez takes you on a journey back in time to the year 1806 as he guides you through the Count de Lopinot cocoa estate. Chocolate is on sale, as well as cocoa balls, coffee, spices, nut cakes and local fruit lollies. See the wooden crafts of Mr Fullerton, and fruit bats and oil birds in nearby cave tours. There is also a cocoa dancing tour, to parang music.
n Nelson Island Heritage Tour on August 4. $150 children under 12; $200 juniors (13-17) and members; $225 seniors (60+); and $250 non-members. 9.30 am-3 pm. Learn the dramatic history of the island through dramatic re-enactments, guided tour, displays, films and cultural presentations.
n Magdalena Grand/Tobago getaway. Two nights—TT$2,400; three nights—$3,450. Deluxe oceanfront King room and buffet breakfast. Rates based on single or double occupancy.
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