An article by Desiree Sampson for Newsday.
JUNE is just around the corner and while it may be the month for brides, it is also the month when another competition that put the spotlight on Trinidad and Tobago’s environment will be held. In case many of us missed it, last year TT won the award for Best Destination for Nature Holidays at the Caribbean Travel Awards hosted by The Daily Telegraph.
In the first installment of the competition in 2015, the newspaper in partnership with the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) invited readers to vote for their country of choice in a variety of categories. According to The Telegraph, which has been around for over 160 years, “the awards aim to highlight the diversity of holiday experiences across the region, with thousands of Telegraph readers voting for their favourite islands and hotels across ten different categories.” TT beat second runner-up St Lucia for the award for best location for nature holidays.
Such a recognition would hardly surprise local environmentalists, professional hikers, nature walkers and tour guides who for years have seen the value of the many jewels of this land we often overlook. We are one of the most important sites in the Western Hemisphere for the nesting of sea turtles, particularly the leatherback.
Over 100 species of birds can be found in the Bush Bush Wildlife Sanctuary at Nariva Swamp.
Tobago’s Main Ridge forest spans 14,000 acres and is the oldest protected rainforest this side of the globe. This is just a mini sample of what TT has to offer for nature lovers.
In presenting the awards, Carol Hay, marketing director of the CTO stated, “We believe that the region will go from strength to strength, continually meeting the needs of future travellers to the Caribbean.” In which case, TT needs to do more to ensure that when nature travellers do visit the islands, their experience continues to be a memorable and worthwhile one.
People who venture on a nature holiday are seeking an enjoyable trip to places with spectacular wildlife and outdoor scenery. They want to get close to tamed and untamed flora and fauna; capture with their cameras exotic species of birds and butterflies; witness up close such things as the ritual of egg laying by the leatherback turtle.
They are looking for more than just sandy beaches and all-round sunshine.
They wish to go deeper and uncover some of the hidden gems of the landscapes of the country they are visiting. Some are also just looking to satisfy their appetite for wanderlust through self exploration of some of our natural beauty whether that entails a drive along the coast to the cliffs at the Toco lighthouse or a rejuvenating hike to one of our easily accessible waterfalls along clearly marked trails.
However, there remain barriers to travel to nature spots here. Lack of clean and properly-maintained facilities close to eco sites or within the nearby communities is one such barrier. Furthermore, nature-based travel entails at times “going into the bush” to get close to wildlife.
As the saying goes, it is a jungle out there. And as the 2013 Travel Guard Update Report indicates, tourists to these kinds of locations are “concerned about suffering injury in remote locations; flight delays and cancellations, inclement weather; contracting a tropical disease…” and so on.
Do stakeholders in our tourism industry have measures in place to adequately address these concerns? If we are, is that information out there for locals and foreigners to access easily? Are all of the locals who take visitors on tours properly trained guides, knowledgable about our poisonous animals and plants and are they equipped to handle emergencies while on a tour? Today’s travellers are using websites and social media to plan their trips and provide post trip updates of their experience. Yet, many of our business, government and community websites are woeful in providing useful information especially for people planning a trip to some of our exotic locations.
TT ’s ability to surpass the likes of St Lucia had more to do with the quality of the experience it offered nature vacationers rather than the number of visitors to the islands.
We need to therefore build on this to further enrich the travellers’ experience while also growing the number of people coming here for our natural beauty. Will we top the category again this year? We’ll soon know in about a month’s time.