Aerial view of Blue Haven Hotel, Tobago

Camille McEachnie

Blue Haven Hotel owner Karl Pilstl says he is confident Tobago’s tourism sector will bounce back.

He said yesterday that plans to renovate and reopen his 50-room hotel in Bacolet before Christmas, as holidaymakers have already made bookings for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

He closed the establishment in March 2020, following this country’s first recorded case of COVID-19 and left for Austria – his homeland.

Until then, he had been in Tobago’s hotel industry for 25 years, he told Guardian Media via telephone.

The hotelier said he and his wife Marilyn were lured by the island’s “location, amazing nature and rainforest, unspoiled beaches and healthy environment.”

“In 2005, Tobago tourism was booming because of 15 international flights per week. Besides full employment, in hotels and restaurants, everybody was doing business. We bought almost 500 pounds of fresh fish every week and fresh produce, especially organic produce from local farmers,” Pilstl said.

He said the island’s economy enjoyed the trickle-down economic effect, as entertainers, taxi drivers, tour guides and dive operators benefited.

Pilstl said he persevered during the lean years.

“Once international airlines stopped flying to Tobago, tourist arrival figures dropped dramatically. In addition, the problems with the sea and airbridge started,” he said.

“Even families who came with their kids every year had to cancel their vacation because they could not get a ticket. Some were even stranded and could not get back on time. It was easier for them to travel to other Caribbean islands than to Tobago. So we lost a lot of local tourism too.”

However, he believes the industry will rise again.

“Economies run in cycles! The finalisation of the new airport, combined with a proper marketing campaign, will attract increased airlift and automatically tourism business will go up again. We have new boats (Buccoo Reef and APT James ), so we can win back tourists.”

He said his hotel won an award from the Caribbean Tourism Organization and Island Magazine in 2007 because he incorporated his skills as a trained engineer during the hotel’s refurbishment, making it a consumer of low energy.

“It has a solar-based water heating system using natural cross ventilation for cooling purposes, consuming less than half the electricity of a conventional hotel.”

In 2019, the hotel won another award as Tobago’s leading hotel at the World Tourism Awards in Montego Bay.

The fully-vaccinated hotel owner said he expects to return from Austria soon to begin renovating the hotel again and is awaiting an international flight from Europe or the United Kingdom.

Like the rest of the world, Tobago’s tourism sector was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s June 2021 report indicated that the global economy is expected to lose $4 trillion for 2020 and 2021 because of decreased international tourist arrivals.

THA Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis appointed a 12-man team last month to look at plans for the safe reopening of the sector and its sustainability.