There’s an interesting website that I noticed circulating on Facebook called the Travelice Compendium, which describes itself as “a collection of observations, oddities, travel tips and techniques, facts, foods, dangers, annoyances, and all-around interesting or enlightening stuff that’s undoubtedly of value to someone, somewhere“. (Kind of vague, but whatever).
The compendium has various sections, such as how to do business, whether the country is safe for female travellers, whether you can do volunteering, the best and worst street food, gay and lesbian travel, customs and etiquette, and getting around.
Interestingly enough, it also has a section on “Reasons to Hate” countries, including Trinidad and Tobago.
“Not every country can capture the hearts of all the travelers passing through it,” the Reasons to Hate section says. “For some, the reasons to love a country can be surprisingly few. Travelers, please submit a list of reasons explaining what you hated about visiting ________ .”
Boy oh boy were people willing to throw in their two cents about why they hate T&T! Unfortunately they were all from a resident’s point of view, rather than a tourist’s point of view. The locals complained, and rightly so, about the schools, the hospitals, the policemen, the crime rate, and so on. I had a good chuckle at a lot of them.
The very last comment posted so far was by far the winner –
Poor banana! Sounds like he or she is desperate to move.
This post, however, is not about what makes T&T a great or a terrible place to LIVE. It is supposed to be about T&T through the eyes of a visitor.
After travelling around in South East Asia, where many countries are poor but have very thriving tourist industries, I’ve been looking at T&T from a new light, and have come to the conclusion that our underdeveloped tourism industry has a long long way to go.
In general, the people that I’ve met who have been to Trinidad have only been there because they know a Trini, and had someone to show them around. The fact is, we just don’t care about tourism. We have oil. Tourism is a joke because we really don’t care whether or not the tourists come. We don’t rely on them, we don’t need them, and we can’t be bothered to provide a good tourist experience to the few who do come to our shores.
I personally don’t think Trinidad is the kind of place I would ever recommend to a tourist just travelling there for fun. Here’s some of the reasons why:
1. It’s hard to get around. Public transport is the pits, and travelling in maxi taxis is not for the faint hearted. Buses are infrequent and don’t go to many destinations. You’d really need to rent a car, and not everyone has a license on wants to drive while on holiday. Or, you’d have to hire a driver. Parking is also difficult to find and you run the risk of getting wrecked.
2. There is little if any signage about how to get to our tourist attractions, so even if you were driving, good luck trying to find your way around.
3. Our capital city is a disgrace. When I used to work in Port of Spain on the promenade, at lunch time I’d walk around and would often see confused looking tourists, clutching little maps, walking around quite perplexed, as if thinking, “What is it we are supposed to see here?” If you get off at a cruise ship complex in another island in the Caribbean, you’d have a pretty port, lots of choices for food, little shops selling fun things. What do you get when you land in POS? Garbage. Vagrants. Traffic. Noise. You can’t find any restaurants because they are hidden up in the drag malls. What kind of a capital city is that? Port of Spain must be the absolute worst port of call to stop in.
4. Customer service is extremely poor. In T&T the customer is NOT always right, in fact it is quite the opposite. Many tourists are not willing to deal with the ‘I’m too good to serve you’ mentality that people working in customer service tend to have. We move slow. It makes no difference whether or not you buy the goods. All we want to know is who is going out to get the KFC for lunch.
5. Crime. Let’s face facts — it isn’t that safe. A female traveller, for example, would be taking a big risk going out at night time alone. I’ve travelled alone in many countries and have never felt like I was in danger. But if I were a tourist alone in Trinidad, I would never go out alone after dark.
6. We have amazing eco-tourism potential, but no infrastructure and not enough businesses working in the industry. For example, when I went diving for the first time in Charlotteville, Tobago, I was shocked that there were no other boats around and no other divers. In fact, all the dive shops in Charlotteville were closed down. In places like Thailand, where they NEED the tourist dollars, the beach is lined with dive shops, little restaurants and bars, and hotels and hostels of all kinds. The diving in Charlotteville was incredible, and it is a shame that we literally have no tourists to enjoy it.
7. Our best attractions are mismanaged. Take Maracas Bay as a perfect example. There are toilets but they don’t work. It’s filthy and it stinks. I’d rather go pee in the sea than step foot in the bathroom, and I’m sure most people do just that. The beach huts that once used to sell bake and shark on the beach are now deserted and an eyesore. You have to walk all the way down to a wet car park to buy food. There’s no benches or shade. There are no souvenirs on sale. These are all simple things that should be provided to visitors.
8. Pan is only promoted at Carnival time. Why is it you can’t go hear pan any month of the year? How nice would it be if it were easy to go hear pan on any given Friday night? To go have a beer and eat some corn soup and listen to pan somewhere? But no, you have to be there at the right time of year.
On the flip side, some would say these are all GOOD things — that the fact that we barely HAVE a tourism industry is what makes Trinidad and Tobago a great and very unique place to visit. After all, you know you are getting the real, authentic local experience, because we aren’t pandering to the tourists. We don’t have touts harassing you every step of the way, we aren’t pretending to be the picture-perfect little Caribbean island and kissing tourist ass. And who knows, maybe the fact that it is hard to get around makes it all the more rewarding. Maybe some travellers are fed up of the busy beaches full of tourists, the crappy hostels, the dive sites flooded with boats. Maybe the fact that we are just a little nation, doing our own thing, and not taking on anyone else, is something that some travellers might actually enjoy for a change.
Still, it would be nice to be able to find a clean toilet on Maracas one day.