Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon

Tobago is expected to receive a fresh tourism boost as the Evolving TecKnologies and Enterprise Development Company Ltd (eTecK) is inviting the submission of an Expression of Interest (E0I) for a “first class hotel and property development” at Rocky Point.

According to eTeck applicants must be suitably qualified with the financial capability and a proven track record to provide “design, build, finance and operate services.”

“The Lands are known as Rocky Point consist of two contiguous parcels of land, one being 13 acres and the other 15 acres. Situated on the western side of Grafton Road and immediately south of Pleasant Prospect, the Lands form a peninsula that slopes into the blue Caribbean Sea. It sits right at the sea and a public beach is located at the southern border of the land,” the EOI explained.

It added that the expected overall architectural and engineering designs will take into consideration the preservation of the environment and natural beauty of the bay, adding that nearby attractions are just two to five minutes away with a 15-minute drive from the airport.

Rocky Point is is close proximity to the Mount Irvine public beach which is very popular with swimmers and surfers and also features a turtle nesting site that attracts eco-tourists. Other close attractions include a golf course the EOI stated.

The Business Guardian reached out to Tourism Minister Randall Mitchell for further details.

He said the travel and tourism sectors are significant contributors to social and economic resilience, growth and development of T&T, adding that tourism plays a significant role in job creation and employment with a GDP contribution of 7.8 per cent.

The project, Mitchell said is therefore, critical to the overall diversification thrust of the economy.

“T&T is seeking to reposition itself and advance its tourism sector to support national recovery and a postCOVID-19 growth agenda. The benefits of the project include job creation and employment, foreign exchange earnings, tax and other income generation, foreign investment, cultural preservation, preservation of natural assets, demand for local agriculture, manufactured goods, art and entertainment products and creation of opportunities for innovation in art, culture and business,” Mitchell explained.

On the size and kind of hotel the Government is interested in establishing Mitchell said an evaluation committee will review the proposals submitted and advise Government on the option that would bring the “greatest value” to the industry.

On whether the proposal is likely to be a resort project such as Sandals for instance he said Government, through his ministry, continues to facilitate and incentivise investment in tourism destination development.

“At this stage, the Government is inviting proposals for the design,build,finance and operate services for a first class hotel and property development.

“Subsequently, Government will explore its options for the type of project, which may be either a stand alone, an all-inclusive, or a hybrid model,” Mitchell said.

And on whether Government will be offering a kind of project which could invite a major brand to manage the hotel similar to that of the Hilton or the Hyatt Regency Mitchell said the evaluation committee will consider each proposal “carefully,” and will “have regard to the involvement of international hotel brand franchises that bring with them strong linkages such as airlift, operators, marketing, all of which can be leveraged to ensure the success of this future project.”

Over the years stakeholders have expressed concerns that Tobago’s accommodation sector remains inadequate and in urgent need of upgrading.

Mitchell identified “the optimal accommodation mix” as one of the main limitations in the accommodation sector, both in Trinidad and Tobago.

However, he said Government is trying to achieve this mix including the type, range and quality of lodging which will assist with the market position of the destination.

“Overall, the destinations are seeking to increase the quantity and quality of its room stock through the support of the accommodation sector as evidenced by its most recent incentive support of The BRIX: Autograph Collection by Marriott, Comfort Inn and Suites Tobago, the Magdalena Grand Beach & Golf Resort in Tobago and the soon to be opened, Radisson Blu, among others,” Mitchell outlined.

In Tobago, he said, there is a shortage of marketable rooms (rooms available as part of a package) that are attractive to key international source markets.

And there remains insufficient room availability in Port-of-Spain and environs, particularly, during seasonal and festival events such as Carnival, Mitchell added, noting that there’s a need to bolster “high-end and first-class room stock” in both destinations to increase competitiveness.

Creation of linkages

Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon under whose purview eTecK falls, described the project as excellent for Tobago, adding that the Government is interested in having a first class development.

Gopee-Scoon said there is a possibility that the development could come with hotels and condominiums but that will depend on what’s presented in the proposals.

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She said Tobago has so much to offer which, at times, is under-appreciated.

“I think sometimes we do not recognise the beauty of Tobago. We probably enjoy particular spots like Pigeon Point for instance, but the rest of Tobago is absolutely stunning and delightful and really it’s our piece of treasure in the region,” Gopee-Scoon said.

She said the island is ripe for further tourism development, noting that there’s “no better time” to get the project off the ground and “to its fulfilment,” adding that she has had the privilege of looking at Rocky Point from both land and from sea.

Gopee-Scoon also expressed confidence about financing for the project.

“Even in Trinidad there’s a lot of private capital that needs to be unlocked and therefore, the interest might come from within Trinidad and Tobago as well as within the region or extra-regionally,” she said.

On the possible linkages, including the farming community, which can be connected to the proposal Gopee-Scoon said, insisting the entire ecosystem must be looked at.

“The Minister of Agriculture is working with his counterpart in Tobago. I know the THA is taking agriculture seriously and I think every one is on the right tract.

“This opportunity extends not to just to a hotel and its services but a whole range of services and the opportunity to find all its products that it needs within Tobago and by extension Trinidad,” Gopee-Scoon added.

Fair and transparent process

eTeck chairman, Imtiaz Ahamad assured the process will be fair and transparent and with the country’s best interest in mind.

He said once the the EOI is closed off-April 30-only then can eTecK refine all the details.

Pending the number of submissions, Ahamad said evaluations can then be completed and a short list decide upon within a month.

“Before the end of the year we will certainly be able to go out to those companies which are short listed with a plan to forward the development. The decision is trending more along the lines of a tourism development project as the EOI calls for, a hotel and property development project. It could mean along the lines of townhouses or condos as seen in many modern-type developments. So it will be a land use mixture but all along the lines of tourism development,” Ahamad said.

He added the project will dovetail into two aspects; Tobago as a tourist destination and the works for the expansion of Tobago’s airport which will cater for an increase in airlift of all sizes and types.

Great area for water sports

President of the Tobago Hospitality and Tour Operators Association (THTOA) Tedd Greig said the opportunity for increasing good quality room stock is now.

He said despite the uncertainty that still lies ahead with the COVID-19 pandemic, stakeholders are hopeful that within the next two years “some sort of normalcy” will return as far as tourism is concerned.

“Certainly I think organisations are seeking the opportunity to have an increase in room stock,” Greig said.

The Rocky Point area itself, he noted, is quiet and secluded which also offers a fantastic sunset.

Greig said it’s also perfect for destination beach weddings, adding that it’s smack between Mt Irvin Hotel and the Grafton Beach Hotel.

“And at certain times of the year there’s a nice swell that comes in which gives surfers and opportunity to enjoy surfing which is a sport that is catching up throughout the region,” Greig added.