Tobago reef tour operators have expressed happiness at the extended opening hours at the country’s beaches.
During Wednesday’s covid19 virtual media briefing, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh announced that beginning Monday, beaches will be open from 5 am- 6 pm.
Deyalsingh said he received authorisation from the Prime Minister after talks with THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine. He said the regulations would be amended with regard to the changes, which become effective from January 31. Previously beaches were allowed to be open from 5 am-2 pm from January 18.
Speaking with Newsday on Thursday at Gibson Jetty in Bon Accord, tour operator Michael Frank expressed relief.
“I’m actually very happy. I’m not just happy that we’re working a full day now, but I’m happy for the country generally.
“The mere idea of the beach opening all day gives the country and all our visitors a fair chance to enjoy what Tobago has to offer. The whole idea of coming to Tobago is about the sea, the forest, the island. If the beaches are closed then, people can’t enjoy it as they’re supposed to. So we are very, very happy, we are delighted for the extended hours actually.”
He said from conversations with other tour operators, they too are thrilled.
“Everybody is really happy and excited about the fact that reef tours will be opened again in full. We are looking forward to starting up the business again and operating as we used to.
” It is better to have any type of tour than no tour, so from the beginning, the first opening, although it wasn’t 100 per cent, we were happy. We are just excited now that we can operate at 100 per cent.”
He said the tour operator are getting ready.
“The plan is to go back to the two trips. As it is presently, everything is a go and we’re just getting ourselves in gear.”
The current trips, he said usually consist of no more than 15 people.
“There aren’t many people going out to the reef, but it’s still enough. Yesterday I took out 12 people, the day before I took out about eight or nine, today I have 12-15, but there is no volume as yet, But it’s a starting point.”
However, there is still one fear factor.
“Not knowing what is next is what is the most dangerous thing. People have to be able to plan, and because you can’t plan in the scenario, it makes it difficult.
“Even now, with beaches open till 6pm, we still can’t do much planning, because now we know that they could come and close the beach whenever they want to. Before, that used to be somewhat of a dream – beaches closed never happened in our lifetime – so now that we’re aware that this is happening, what is stopping it from happening again in the future?”
Another tour operator, Sherman Samuel, who is based at Pigeon Point, said, “That is the best thing they could have done. It’s really time for the place to go back to normal, so the extended hours, although it’s only until 6pm, is a step in the right direction.”
He described a day in the life of a tour operator.
“Sometimes, you carry out 12, 14, ten – it depends, but on average I’ll say 12 per trip.
He said while his set trips are 11am and 2pm, they are flexible.
“If a crew come and have it have enough to go now, we gone. Remember, we’re taking less people.”
He said making his guests happy remains his priority.
“Right now, you can’t really study money, it’s the business. I’m really doing this for the love. Seeing people’s face when they get a reef trip is my priority.”
When contacted, THA Secretary of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation Secretary Tashia Burris said she was heartened by the announcement.
In a press release mere minutes later, she said: “This news is certainly welcomed and will immediately translate into increased income earning capacity for our stakeholders and added adventure and leisure activity time for visitors and locals to explore and enjoy Tobago.”
She described the announcement as a signal “that we are resolute in following through on our commitments as far as we possibly can and also a positive step in the right direction for the rebounding of the local tourism industry.”
The release added: “As many look forward to the extended hours, Councillor Burris wants us all to be reminded of the health protocols to keep ourselves and each other safe and to also be mindful that consumption of alcohol, parties or playing of loud music are not permitted.”
She said the division will be working with stakeholders to ensure health and safety remain a top priority.
THA Minority Leader Kelvon Morris applauded the announcement.
“As you can appreciate, the sea and beaches are an integral pillar in the overall tourism experience and offerings of Tobago. So we are therefore hopeful, this announcement will aid in the revitalisation of our tourism sector, which has been quite dormant due to the pandemic and more importantly will provide much-needed income and even employment for tour operators and other tourism stakeholders.”
He cautioned everyone who is to benefit from this announcement “to continue to observe the health protocols as we are still battling this dreaded pandemic and the goal is to eventually be able to enjoy our beaches without time restrictions, but this can only be achieved if we conduct ourselves responsibly.”