Nicholas Hardwick owner of Seahorse Inn Restaurant says Tobago is poised to recover from COVID-19

A Tobago based restaurant owner believes that Tobago’s tourism sector is strategically poised to rebound from COVID-19.

And although the destination spent the last decade struggling to recover from the global recession of 2008, Tobago’s tourism may finally be on the right path.

Owner of Seahorse Inn Nicholas Hardwick said having been in business for twenty-five years, the Seahorse Inn at Grafton, has had to weather many storms, however, when COVID-19 hit, Tobago’s tourism sector was showing positive signs of recovery.

“Up to the day when we were closed down it was the 25, the anniversary of our opening, we were at that time enjoying the best winter season and I don’t mean just the Seahorse Inn I think a lot of businesses in Tobago were enjoying the best winter we had encountered for some years.”

He said the Seahorse Inn saw an improvement in terms of the number of restaurant diners and the average spend per customer.

Hardwick, who previously served as President of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association said the financial crash of 2008 changed the economies of scale and this highlighted a number of inadequacies in the destination, but things were starting to pick up on the island.

However, he said the pandemic brought that momentum to a halt, and this will change the dynamics of the industry, and it remains to be seen how stakeholders cope as the rest of the world is struggling to cope with the pandemic.

“There has been investment in a new airport, a significant amount of infrastructural work in Tobago, and a relatively new Tobago Tourism Agency that has forged a world-respected brand that is doing great things with marketing and helping to manage the process of improving the product.”

He said while he doesn’t disagree with the government’s ban on in-house dining for restaurants and bars, curbside pick up does not fit in with his business model.

“Our main business was seated dining we have an open-air restaurant and we also have an interior dining restaurant as well and so having to resort to a takeaway format also takes away a lot of the draw that people would have to come to us in the first place.”

His location also doesn’t have the concentration of people to make a takeaway service justifiable like urban areas such as Scarborough and Crown Point where there is more traffic.

Hardwick said he has not been able to see any major benefits from the system.

“Tobagonians are very self-sufficient, they are very resilient they like to cook so without that Trinidad market without that international market it’s difficult but its something we have to contend with.”

The company has had to make the sacrifice and retain all 26 of their staff members as according to the restaurateur, “my staff is my business.”

He said he is currently using the slow period to undertake upgrade work on the restaurant and even as he anticipates the government’s announcement of when he can resume operations fully, he is even more interested in hearing how COVID-19 is going to be managed when the economy is fully reopened.