Above: the Hyatt Regency Trinidad (CJ Photo)
By Alexander Britell
It was not a coincidence that United States Vice President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping both visited Port of Spain within a seven-day period at the end of May — Trinidad and Tobago has rapidly positioned itself as one of, if not the most influential business and political destination in the Caribbean. At the centre of it all is the Hyatt Regency Trinidad, where Biden stayed during his visit, and which has become the major conference and meeting destination in the twin-island country. To learn more, Caribbean Journal talked to Russell George, general manager of the hotel, about tourism in Trinidad, the growth of Port of Spain and the hotel’s latest initiatives.
How has this year been going so far?
We’re showing growth and we’re very happy with the direction of business in 2013.
How would you describe tourism in Trinidad right now?
What I can tell you, from the hotel’s perspective, is that we still see the strong focus on business tourism. The primary tourist arrivals are those that come for business, and that’s what’s happening in Trinidad. But Trinidad is also experiencing strong leisure travel as well.
What’s driving that business tourism?
Well what’s driving it is, I believe, the fact that Trinidad is still the hub of business in the southern Caribbean, and as far as the Caribbean islands go, when people come for business, it’s driven primarily because of the energy sector. Oil and gas are very strong, and when the financial markets are very strong, that’s when the majority of business travelers who come to Trinidad are here. We also get the spinoff from the leisure side, when people are visiting the island and also taking part in leisure activities.
Above: Russell George
The hotel hosted the Sustainable Tourism Conference earlier this year, and that seems to be a buzz word for the region’s hospitality industry. What kind of efforts do you see Trinidad making on the sustainability front?
Sustainability is still a work in progress. I think it is a work in progress for many, many properties in the hospitality industry here in Trinidad. Having emphasis on the energy sector, and the subsidizing of energy in Trinidad and Tobago, means the focus on energy saving and conservation has not been very strong. The tourism conference that we had was a great event for the island, because it really helps us to focus on sustainability and the greening of our industry. I think the individual hotels are focused on that. And with the government now supporting that and becoming much more aware of it, there will be a lot of changes.
“Trinidad is still the hub of business in the southern Caribbean
What about the Hyatt in particular?
With respect to the Hyatt, that is a company focus for us. The Hyatt hotels focus on it, and we are continuing that mandate from the corporate office to reduce our energy footprint, but it’s a learning process. It’s a process that’s in the infancy stages in Trinidad.
What are some of the new initiatives the hotel is working on?
With Hyatt, we have just now launched a new programme called the “women’s experience,” focused on the individual female traveler, and gearing some of our product to that individual traveler. That’s something we’ve learned and known for a while — that hotels are largely focused on the male traveler. But today, the unaccompanied woman traveler for business is a big segment of our population, and at our hotel, that represents almost 40 percent of our business travelers. So it means we have to lead, and we have changed our focus to accommodate their needs.
What does the visit by an official like Joe Biden mean for the hotel?
This being the highest US official visit to Trinidad — we had President Obama here for the Summit of the Americas — and this is a meeting that [Biden] is having with the Prime Minister of Trinidad along with some other heads of government of CARICOM, it’s a great opportunity for us. There’s quite a lot of exposure for us, and we’re excited.
What does Biden’s visit, along with that of China’s Xi, mean for Trinidad as a whole?
It really has put a focus on Trinidad being a place that heads of government come to meet. And when they need to the communicate to Caribbean countries, Trinidad plays a major role in that communication.