Meeting Place of the Americas: Trinidad Positions Itself as the Conference & Convention Hub of the Caribbean
Trinidad is already a financial and information hub of the region and a gateway to Latin America, with a high influx of business travellers. Consequently, the Tourism Development Company (TDC) has set up the Trinidad & Tobago Convention Bureau (TTCB), which began operations in August 2009. For our 2011 issue, we spoke to the newly appointed head of the Bureau, the Canadian-born Chantel Ross Francois, about what lay ahead.
DTT: Tell us about the origins of the Trinidad & Tobago Convention Bureau (TTCB), and the reason it was created?
CRF: The meetings and conference market has always been a significant niche market for Trinidad – in 2008 there were approximately 84,000 business and convention stopover visitors, accounting for 19% of all stopovers. Globally, the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions industry or “business tourism” is generally regarded as one of the highest yielding inbound tourism segments due to its high per-delegate spend. It is one of the fastest growing market segments worldwide.
So the potential benefits of tapping in to this market was just one of the driving forces behind the government’s decision to position Port of Spain as the meetings and conventions capital of the southern Caribbean and culture capital of the region.
DTT: What exactly is the role the TTCB plays in the business and tourism sectors in Trinidad & Tobago?
CRF: The main focus of the Bureau is increasing the number of events, conferences and meetings held in T&T. It is a veritable “one stop shop” for meeting planners. We provide independent information and assistance on all aspects of hosting and organising conventions and business events within the islands. We are also working to raise the level of support and collaboration among stakeholders, and to provide guidance – and in some instances skills-building opportunities.
Ultimately, the goal is boosting business tourism revenue by increasing business travellers’ length of stay, and the diversity of pre- and post-conference activities available. If we can achieve that, we will also increase business tourism’s contribution to T&T’s GDP and create jobs by increasing the quantity and quality of meetings and conventions held in the country.
DTT: What were the 5th Summit of the Americas (SOTA) and Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) experiences like, with T&T hosting the leaders from all over the world?
CRF: T&T really has demonstrated its ability to successfully host large meetings, conferences and conventions. SOTA and CHOGM also provided a valuable platform to promote what the country offers as a business and leisure destination to a captive, influential and diverse audience.
As the islands host more and more international meetings and events, we are seeing a corresponding growth in opportunities for tourism investment. Many of them do not require high levels of capitalisation, so innovative small entrepreneurs have great opportunities for market entry.
DTT: What sort of facilities are available to business travellers and conference organisers in Trinidad (and Tobago), and how does this make the islands a preferred destination for these people?
Trinidad has the largest and newest conference infrastructure in the English-speaking Caribbean. Many hotels conferences facilities, including international brands like the Hyatt Regency and the Hilton. We also have a wide array of accommodation options and events venues on offer, including the luxurious new Carlton Savannah, the new Hyatt and the newly renovated Hilton, with several new hotel properties on the way. There’s also the newly constructed National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA). In Tobago, award-winning resorts like Coco Reef [and the new Magdalena Grand] are ideal for corporate meetings and team-building retreats. Pre- and post-convention tours are always offered to delegates and participants as well.
In addition to that, T&T offers a wealth of other advantages. We’re advantageously located at the door of the USA – the largest meeting and convention market. We are also part of the North American Area, which allows tax deductibility for US tax-payers who attend an Association meeting or conference in T&T. And with the creativity and energy of our world-class event designers and planners and a burgeoning number of event industry suppliers, we are well positioned to exploit our comparative advantage in this area.
T&T is home to all the facilities necessary to service the business tourism market, including excellent and reliable access from major international hubs; sound physical infrastructure; state of the art telecommunications; attractive leisure attractions; an exciting and diverse culture; festivals throughout the year; and warm, welcoming, talented people!
DTT: What sorts of events and conferences is the TTCB looking to attract?
We’ve embarked on a diverse programme of promotional activities aimed at attracting a range of events – from sporting events to religious conferences and literary seminars.
We have enjoyed great success in bidding on events. In November 2010, for example, we hosted the International Conference on Caribbean Literature at the Hyatt, in conjunction with the University of the West Indies. Participants also visited Tobago for post conference activities. We also partnered with the Local Organising Committee for the FIFA Under 17 Women’s World Cup last September . We helped provide tours and souvenirs for FIFA officials, meet and greet services for VIPs, and pannists at the host hotels to welcome arriving teams. We also provided support to the Purple Dragon World championships which was held last July at the Hyatt.
This came after a hectic first half of 2010, where the Bureau provided support to several conferences and events, including the Trade and Investment Convention – a business to business forum which attracted exhibitors from Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and North America, while bringing together local, regional and international businesses in a range of sectors. And as part of the drive to develop the various niches, we also provided support to a range of events including the Pentecostal Assemblies of the West Indies Conference, Couples for Christ Conference, Rotary International District Conference, the Energy Caribbean Conference, the Vedic Conference – and we look forward to attracting more of these.
Of course, there are challenges posed by weakened economies in major source markets in the short term, but there are opportunities to be had and the country is leveraging its core strengths to build future business. We believe Trinidad & Tobago is perfectly positioned to be the meetings and conventions centre for not just the Caribbean, but for North, South and Central America as well.
About the Trinidad & Tobago Convention Bureau
Nothing in the Caribbean can compare to the unsurpassed energy, diversity and distinctive heritage of the twin islands of Trinidad & Tobago. And for meeting planners seeking something exciting and new in the Caribbean, the Trinidad and Tobago Convention Bureau will work closely with you to plan the perfect programme.
Meeting Space & Accommodation
Overlooking the serene emerald waters of the Gulf of Paria, the Hyatt Regency Trinidad offers the best of Caribbean hospitality and international luxury with over 43,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, a rooftop pool and sundeck, waterfront restaurant, grand ballrooms and an exceptional business centre.
The recently modernised Hilton Trinidad & Conference Centre overlooks the lush green lawns of the Queen’s Park Savannah and offers more than 400 rooms, including four presidential suites. There also exists a wide range of charming smaller properties for more intimate groups.
In the tranquil sister isle of Tobago, the 20-acre beachfront Magdalena Grand Beach & Golf Resort features ocean-front rooms and an 18-hole championship golf course at your doorstep.
Hot & Happening!
A visit to the world renowned Angostura Rum Distillery in Trinidad is always a very special treat. Visitors are immersed in the history of the award-winning brand before the much-anticipated highlight of sampling specialty spirits.
Your delegates will move and groove to the rhythmic sounds of the steel pan, Trinidad & Tobago’s national instrument, when they experience the “Trini Pan Lime”. Sip rum punch and savour local island cuisine in a never-ending conga line.
Trinidad & Tobago Carnival is a month-long festival of non-stop nightlife, fêtes (parties) set to the sounds of pulsating soca music. Festivities culminate in a huge street party of costumed revellers that is beyond compare.
One cannot party on an empty stomach. Ariapita Avenue, Trinidad’s restaurant district, features eateries ranging from haute cuisine to swanky tropical lounges and jazz spots that serve local delicacies.
Whether you snorkel in the warm inviting waters of the Buccoo Reef and Nylon Pool or experience an eco adventure in the Main Ridge Rainforest, Tobago provides the perfect pre- or post-conference experience.
At Your Service
The Trinidad & Tobago Convention Bureau (TTCB) offers a wide range of complimentary services for meeting and incentive planners that will ensure an amazing experience your group won’t forget. The TTCB:
- works with planners to design an itinerary that suits the unique needs of the group, whether it be an eco-adventure, cultural extravaganza, or a little bit of everything T&T
- acts a liaison between planners and hotels, tour operators, and other suppliers to negotiate rates and to take the hassle out of planning your event
- hosts site inspections for meeting planners considering a programme in T&T
- contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, and find them online at http://www.gotrinidadandtobago.com/trinidad/meetings