Aaron “Voice” St Louis performs for his fans at Vibes with Voicey, Fairways Golf Restaurant and Lounge, Plantation, Lowlands, Tobago, on April 14. – David Reid
AFTER being virtually decimated by the covid19 pandemic over the past two years, Tobago’s hotel and guesthouse sector is operating at near maximum capacity.
The Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA) on Saturday reported that almost all of the hotels, guest houses, villas and bed and breakfast businesses are fully booked over the long Easter weekend.
“We are almost full to capacity right through – villas, guesthouses, hotels,” said an upbeat THTA vice-president Carol-Ann Birchwood-James.
She said some stakeholders are now turning away guests.
Birchwood-James said at the hotel in Canoe Bay, “We are sending back people because we have a group that had booked since two months ago.”
“I was just able to accommodate one of our regular customers who comes twice a month, so we had to find a space for him. But we are sending away people. We are full, that is what we are getting from all of the hotels.”
When Sunday Newsday contacted Coco Reef Resort and Spa in Crown Point, a senior employee said occupancy was extremely high.
“We are not 100 per cent but we are running a high occupancy. We are doing well,” the employee said, adding the resort got a new general manager on May 31.
Former THTA president Rene Seepersadsingh said other large hotels are also not fully booked.
“But based on what has happened with the pandemic over the last two years, the island is very busy, no doubt,” he said.
“From a business perspective everybody is pleased because there was a protracted period of little or no business, so obviously business owners and operators will be pleased to have a lot more activity on the island. So, we hope that it sustains itself at least for the rest of the year.”
Commenting on Tobago’s high occupancy levels, THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine said via WhatsApp, “I am happy for those in the sector that will receive a bounce in business this Easter. It was much needed.”
He said the increased number of domestic flights and sailings allowed for an influx of visitors.
“I saw one report that suggests that we had 62,000 visitors for this long weekend.”
Augustine said Tobago is open for business.
“Tobago is ready to get its tourism sector going. We have a lot of work to do but we are ready to put in the work.”
On March 26, amid declining covid19 infections and deaths, the Prime Minister announced the removal of safe zones and restrictions in most sectors, including beaches and rivers.
But, he said, citizens will still be required to wear face masks in public.
The announcement, just three weeks before the Easter weekend, triggered calls from the tourism stakeholders for an increase in the number of Caribbean Airlines’ flights between Trinidad and Tobago, to meet the expected demand.
CAL subsequently issued a statement on Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day, saying the airline would operate 12 return flights on the domestic airbridge from April 2.
On Saturday, Birchwood-James estimated there were thousands of people in Tobago. She said apart from the beaches and sight-seeing and relaxation, there was also a lot of entertainment for visitors.
She said Voice (Aaron St Louis) was the featured artiste at an event in Lowlands on Good Friday and soca artiste Shurwayne Winchester was also expected to perform in a show at the Gulf City Mall on Saturday night.
“There is a lot of entertainment and we are very grateful and excited. Remember, it’s two years since we have been able to have anything at all. So, we are excited that we can accommodate our Trinidadian friends and our international visitors and enjoy sports, goat races, kite-flying and all of the nighttime activities.”
Birchwood-James said stakeholders across all sectors have contributed to the development.
“I think Angostura has a truck going around to all of the different bars with music and giveaways. So, whether its accommodation, whether its dining, bars, restaurants, I think we have all contributed to the kind of atmosphere that we have today.”
Saying she hopes the trend will continue every weekend, Birchwood-James said holidaymakers must be mindful that the virus is still around.
“We still have to be cautious. We still have the covid19 with us and we have to continue to wear our face masks.”
She said although covid19 infections are trending downwards, people must still get vaccinated.
THA Secretary of Health, Wellness and Social Protection Dr Faith BYisrael also urged caution.
“Have fun this Easter but remember to still practice the three w’s. Wash your hands properly, watch your distance and wear your mask properly,” she said.
On Saturday, the division said Tobago’s active covid19 caseload fell below 300 patients.
In its daily report, the division said the island now has 295 active covid19 cases and seven new cases.
It said eight people are currently hospitalised, three of whom are fully vaccinated and five unvaccinated.
The division said to date, Tobago has 7,775 recovered patients.
The island’s covid19 death toll remains at 262.
The Airport Authority of TT, meanwhile, is assuring the public that strict covid19 protocols remain in place at the Piarco and ANR Robinson international airports even with the increase in domestic and international flights.
In a statement, the authority said, “Under the overall guidance of the Ministry of Health, the authority continues to apply health and safety measures at our terminals to mitigate the risk of the spread of covid19. Rigorous sanitisation activities continue and are closely monitored and regularly reviewed.”
It added trained personnel use equipment, specifically applicable to the required level of sanitisation, such as electro-static foggers, which are used in combination with manual disinfection.
The authority said it uses safe, non-toxic chemicals which are registered with the United States Environmental Protection Agency and give up to seven days of active protection against covid19.
It added all other covid19 protocols continue to be in effect to protect airport users.
“The Authority is making every effort to ensure that we inspire confidence in our passengers to feel safe to travel through the Piarco and ANR Robinson International Airports. The safety of all airport users remains top priority.”