“The new government of Trinidad and Tobago has embraced tourism,” said Tourism Minister Shamfa Cudjoe at the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s State of the Industry Conference in Curacao. “For me, the last four weeks have been quite exciting and interesting as I’ve had a chance to engage stakeholders, and we are working to take the tourism product to where it needs to be.”
Now, embracing tourism is not a radical notion in the Caribbean, but Minister Cudjoe is the first to admit that this serious a commitment to the travel industry is, for Trinidad and Tobago, somewhat new. “We became so dependent upon oil and energy that we haven’t done all that we could possibly do to advance the tourism industry,” she explained. “The new government is leading the charge toward diversification of economic development.” With a Trinidad-and-Tobago twist, though, because the emphasis is on “improving infrastructure, community tourism, and rural tourism.”
Minister Cudjoe’s training is in international trade, and in her previous position, she was trade analyst for the Tobago House of Assiembly. “As a new young person I bring a pragmatic dollars and sense attitude, as well as a passion for people and for authentic experiences. Our government is serious about embracing the private sector.”
She talked about her country’s “diverse cultures, mouth-watering cuisine, and robust and growing infrastructure,” referring to “‘terrific Trinidad, ‘ a business and conference center where you can also go to the beach or experience nature, and ‘tranquil Tobago,’ quite a romantic destination with secluded beaches, ecotourism, and adventure tourism.” The tourism minister’s goals for Trinidad and Tobago include the following:
- Make intra-island transport more reliable and predictable, create nationwide internet access, and improve the seaport.
- Bring the message of tourism’s importance to schools and people.
- Help young people create businesses.
- Foster authentic experiences: “Sometimes countries attract visitors by catering to what the foreigners want to do. But tourists don’t come here to drink Hershey’s chocolate; they want to drink ours. The American tourist doesn’t come to Trinidad and Tobago to have an American experience,” she said.
- To that end, she wants to see Port of Spain recognized as a city of culture.
- Travelers have long visited that city for its Carnival, but Minister Cudjoe plans to encourage venues and events that will make it easier for visitors to enjoy calypso, steelpan music, mask-making, and other aspects of Carnival throught the year.
- “We have to get rid of crime,” she added. “Fighting crime is a major part of policy for new government.”
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