With the invitation of Sandals to Tobago, the government has signalled its commitment to tourism at last, apparently. They now have two agencies in Trinidad and one in Tobago to look after Trinidad and Tobago’s tourism product. Or, should we say, mess it up?
I WAS LOOKING FOR a phrase that would describe the opposite of “the Midas touch”, when everything the mythical Greek king touched turned to gold; the golden touch that makes one effortlessly successful.
Because how else could I describe the pathological condition manifest in every incarnation of every tourism body or government agency that has ever been charged with improving the tourism product of Trinidad and Tobago?
The “Sadim touch” is what they’re afflicted with – Midas in reverse; an uncanny ability to screw up anything and everything; in T&T’s case to wreck what was once beautiful and wonderful and turn it from gold into, well, a name that can’t be published on a family blog.
The two worst examples are the two most famous beaches and tourist “drawcards” on either island, Maracas Bay and Pigeon Point. They are object lessons in how to destroy priceless tourism assets; classic examples where the law of “if it isn’t broken don’t fix it” should have been applied.
When you have failed so spectacularly with T&T’s two prime attractions, why should anyone believe spending billions on inviting a luxury resort chain to these shores heralds a successful new dawn of diversification from energy dependence? The evidence doesn’t back it up, and merely serves to highlight what needs fixing first.
At Pigeon Point – aka Pigeon Profit, Plastic Point and Pigeon Pointless – what was once the most serene and bewitching place you could ever dream of has been vandalised beyond imagining.
Those born after the millennium will never know the natural paradise it once was. On my first visit in 1986 I thought I had died and woken in heaven with a rum punch.
In those days Pigeon Point was a sandy, peaceful, coconut-palm-fringed slice of gorgeousness; a truly world-beating beauty spot which, had it been looked after properly, would now be a fantastic selling point for the island.
But since then thoughtless removal of sea grape, and unnecessary and successive groyne experiments have mucked up tidal flows and water quality, causing erosion. Now ugly piles of rocks keep you out of the water by the “iconic” jetty and run along the water’s edge, barring entry to the sea in that area – a large, round blot of rocks like an oversized acne pimple sits on the point itself.
Do you remember how once you could float, rum punch in hand in the shallows, with fish darting around your toes as you drifted beneath the jetty and out to the other side to sit on the sands there, watching the sun go down in a riot of colour to the rhythm of gently lapping water?
The sun still goes down behind the jetty, but that sand has gone, and the only riot now is from thunderous sound systems that have removed all vestiges of natural rhythms or the sense of getting away from anything at all.
You can’t even swim out far from shore any more, past the present cordoned-off swimming boundary, unless you want to be run down by speeding jet skis or any number of motorised watercraft.
The main beach area, which once had nothing more than a bar with some food, a beachwear shop and a few picturesque coconut-thatched huts, now drowns under a tsunami of built structures and plastic chairs cluttering all vestiges of open space. Crass commercialisation runs amok.
You can barely move for tripping over some ugly new building. Last time I was there I found my way along the sand barred by a roped-off corporate box marked “Private – No Entry!” Yes, really, at Pigeon Profit Inheritance Park.
This is not normal. It’s not what tourists want, but it is what they are offered.
Around the corner by the still natural and unspoilt wilderness of No Man’s Land and Bon Accord Lagoon, favourite haunt of bioluminescence paddle-board tours and birding groups, two huge hotel resorts are planned by Sandals which will tower six stories over the mangroves, constructed by those well-known carriers of the Sadim touch, the government.
Sadim touch is highly contagious in T&T and one can only pray that those behind the twin resorts have been inoculated against it. Otherwise the tragedy of Pigeon Point will be repeated, only on a far larger scale.
Maybe they should look to the sister island . . .
In Trinidad, Sadim touch is usually caught when the following proclamation – from whatever ministry or agency happens to be in charge at the time – declares that a “beach facility improvement project” is imminent, or a “redesign” or “masterplan”; or that so and so agency “will provide expertise in providing facilities management services”.
It’s then you know that the unpleasant virus is about to strike.
At Maracas Bay, so advanced is the Sadim touch condition that it is to all intents and purposes terminal (see How We Broke Maracas for horror photos). Euthanising Maracas might be kinder: just clear the shanty town that exists there now; remove the detritus and deck chair gangs, and invite Sandals to put up an enormous all-inclusive fun palace behind the coconut trees.
Look, it would be a darn site more attractive – Sandals would design it and you would pay – and the fishermen at Maracas Village could supply the resort with all the seafood they’ll ever need. Sandals could set up Vilma, Annette and the rest of the shark n’ bake girls with lovely concessions on their five-star property – real plumbing, no biting insects, and no gastro.
Just think how it would galvanise business on the North Coast, the opportunities for all the small farmers, the citrus growers, all the other fishermen. Fresh herbs from Paramin, breadfruit, bananas, mangoes, pawpaw and plantain from farmers in La Fillette, Las Cuevas and Blanchisseuse; the aromas of Trinidad chocolate and coffee wafting through marbled halls of the luxury resort.
Then there would be no need for Sandals to have to import food from their consolidators in Florida at prices and a quality that no one locally can compete with.
There would be a knock-on effect on other business, too: the small hotels, guest houses and bars of the Northern Range would all see visitor numbers rise. Perhaps they’d get tax concessions, too?
Local tour operators, rather than being ashamed of taking foreign visitors to Maracas, would be proud to show off a shiny new all-inclusive pleasure dome on one of the Caribbean’s most beautiful bays.
The government, in their eagerness to welcome Sandals to Maracas, would then have to improve the North Coast Road to Maracas, building expensive retaining walls to stop the landslides caused by forest clearing for quarrying and slash-and-burn agriculture – the vegetables grown there could supplement the food requirements of the resort.
But Sandals’ guests may not wish to take the long scenic route along that road to reach Maracas. Too far. So the government would have to build a highway through Maracas St Joseph from Piarco Airport, tunnelling through the mountains to Maracas Beach. A long-dreamed-of fantasy would have been accomplished: a highway to Maracas Bay.
But Maracas is a public beach, like Buccoo, you cry. Famous like the Nylon Pool and No Man’s Land and Pigeon Point. It we beach.
That’s fine, you can have the bit by the dirty Maracas River and Maracas fishing village, and at the other end opposite the gas station by the rocks. Listen, you can walk along the beach below the high water mark, share the seawater with the Sandals guests, but obviously you can’t go further than the high water mark, OK?
But we don’t want that bit by the dirty Maracas River.
Don’t worry, that’ll be fine, too, because the government and Sandals will have to fix the sewage problem to attract the foreign tourists.
All the waste that flushes into the river then into the sea from the village and squatter settlements in the valley, and that agricultural run-off, which is especially bad when it rains, it’ll all be gone. The whole of Maracas Bay will be clean again.
This sounds like a plan! Could be the cure for everything. Can we see the MOU?
They can’t ruin a Carib, can they?