Ideas to Diversify T&T Economy
A. Polo - February 2012
Diversifying an oil-based economy
While the islands of Trinidad and Tobago enjoy significant oil reserves, it’s crucial to ensure that their economic development will not depend entirely on oil exports, and tourism is an appropriate alternative. However, the conversion from an oil-based economy to atourism-based one has not been a complete success story for other countries with a similar scenario, like the Arab countries. In the second half of 2008 the media started to report the cancellation of many large real-estate projects in Dubai, which also ended up exposing the social and economic problems of their society .
Also, as every country has a particular mix of social, political andeconomical issues, there are no guaranteed recipes for "conversion success" and the "conversion formula", if any, has to be a long-term national policy. So, we explore here some ideas to drive more tourists into T&T, beginning with a quick diagnostic of the perception of Trinidad & Tobago in other countries and then to consider how to solve the most obvious problems revealed by the diagnostic.
Theideas mentioned here are for short-term solutions because the design of a long-term policy is beyond the scope of this document. Just by looking at previous assessments and recommendations of international organizations like the Inter-American Development Bank , is safe to conclude that local authorities already know that the eventual diversification of T&T's economy will be the outcome of"productive development policies" carefully planned and executed throughout at least a 15-20 year time span.
The T&T tourism industry will not grow significantly if it fails to attract a "new audience" rather than the current "captive" one: A local study conducted in 2011  reports that 78% percent of leisure visitors have family or friends there, while only 5% were on vacation(without any other ties to T&T); this means that no matter how good or bad the tourism product is, the most significant number of visitors will keep going anyway.
This may be also the explanation of why only two major U.S.-based carriers are offering routes to Trinidad: they exist mainly to transport an audience residing in regions with high concentrations of Trinidadians. Just in the U.S., the 2010Census reported a total of 229,926 individuals whose country of birth is T&T, where only 4.2% of them were 17 years-old or younger, so 220,269 are adults who could be receptive to a "Visit your Home" type of message. (That number of adults represent almost 18% of the total T&T population.) This may help the tourism industry but will not do much for Magdalena, as it's more probable that this kindof visitors will stay at a family/friend's house.
So we have to answer "How to attract visitors to T&T with no family or friends there whatsoever?" As a quick antecedent, consider this: Google conducted in the year 2011  a research to "understand how consumers research and gather information throughout the travel decision-making process" and reported the following:
•12% of leisure travelers considered an international destination for their next vacation
• The top 5 international destinations considered by leisure travelers were: the Caribbean in first place with 23% of the respondents; and the Bahamas in fifth place with 18%
• 85% of respondents used the internet to research about their personal travel
• 87% of the affluent travelers used theInternet as a "travel planning source"
Knowing that the overwhelming majority of travelers use the Internet to research for their travel plans, On February 9, 2012 a simple exercise was made on Google, querying with a simple phrase involving the name of a destination, just to get the number of references about "crime in a specific destination", which in turn leads to create a negative...