An interview of Charles Carvalho of Trinidad & Tobago Sightseeing Tours
DTT: Tell us a little about how T&T Sightseeing Tours was started.
CC: Well in 1984, I was in the travel agency business and I took a lot of groups out of Trinidad visiting Barbados, Venezuela, St. Martin, St. Vincent – you name it. Dealing with tour operators in all these places made me think that I should do some research about what companies were operating in Trinidad offering these kinds of services. And there were only two. I came to the conclusion that Trinidad needed to do better and to promote what we had to offer. So right away I set up T&T Sightseeing Tours, and from day one it’s been a success.
You know, I had a gentlemen sitting down right in that seat the other day, and he was asking me why Trinidad and Tobago is lagging behind in tourism. He’s a man that’s lived in Barbados, and here, and doing contracts all over the world, and was sayng that this country has so much to offer. You know, my colleagues that run similar businesses in the other islands tell me, “Mr. Carvalho, if we had here what you have in Trinidad, our tourism would be so advanced.” And that’s because other than the water, they have to create attractions. But here, we have it naturally. Trinidad used to be the mecca for cruise ships years ago. But then the cruise ships began to get bigger and bigger, and while the other islands built the infrastructure to host those ships, but we never upgraded our ports. We may be lagging behind some of the other islands, but we still have so much to offer. And we have it naturally.
DTT: What for you are the most interesting tours that people can go on?
CC: Asa Wright Nature Centre and the Caroni Bird Sanctuary are are top-selling tours, and are my favourites too. I love the drive to and from the Pitch Lake. But it’s hard to pick out any. When we first started the business, Caroni Bird Sanctuary was an afternoon tour, where you had to reach there for 4pm. But it’s a natural environment, so I started selling tours there in the morning right through the day. You may not see the scarlet ibis return to roost, but you see them feeding during the day through the mangrove. You have the caiman, the snakes, the fish and acquatic life, and all the other birds. The cruise ships used to come to Trinidad and leave port at 8pm at night to accommodate tours to the Sanctuary. But when they come with us, they can leave at 6pm, because we have two or three trips going in to the Bird Sanctuary a day!
DTT: What makes T&T Sightseeing Tours special?
CC: First of all, my minimum group size is one person. I started off like that, and it’s something most tour operators don’t do. You don’t have to wait for the tour to fill up – you can get a one-on-one tour. There’s also our name: Trinidad & Tobago Sightseeing Tours. We were one of the first to include the country in the business name, and it’s really important for people to find you.
On top of that, it’s value for money. When you charge people a dollar, people want to get their money’s worth. When we work with the cruise ships, for example, we might work with travel agencies. We might offer a $20 tour that the agency might sell to the client for $30. But when they come to us, they don’t want a $20 tour, they want a $30 one, you understand! If you continued to provide the product you sold, you’d have complaints on your hands because people feel they’re not getting their money’s worth. Now with the internet, people can come direct to you. But we went the extra mile from the beginning, trying to provide value to the customers. And I think that’s been one of our successes. A lot of people in our industry have a “take it or leave it” attitude, but I don’t believe in that. I don’t do what other people are doing, and I don’t want to follow anybody – I do what I have to do, and offer the best product I can to the clients. That’s why we’re still here.
DTT: What’s the best way for our readers to get in touch with you?
CC: Any! Remember, my phone lines are open 24 hours a day. No matter where you are or what time zone you’re in, you can get us any time. Would you believe one of our only customer complaints is that we respond to our emails too quickly!
Charles Carvalho’s TTST offers easy sightseeing tours, city tours, Tobago day tours, historical tours, golf trips, and nature tours including mild to strenuous hikes, boat tours, diving trips, and turtle-watching and birding. It can arrange hotel reservations, car rentals, aircraft charter, conferencing, and cultural itineraries.