The Little India tourism plan for Trinidad that never got its chance

The Little India tourism plan for Trinidad that never got its chance

Photo : Randall Mitchell

Trinidad and Tobago’s new tourism minister Randall Mitchell wants to re-brand TT to increase tourists’  attraction, and he believes  the country has a “niche market for exhibitions, Carnival, parties and fetes.”

I know I shouldn’t be ridiculing the young minister in his first days on the job, but that is the stupidest tourism plan we have heard in over 40 years.  It’s also the only tourism plan we have had since the fifties of the last century,  a plan which has failed repeatedly over the decades.

Minister Mitchell has not read his old files at the Ministry of Tourism for Black People, or he would have come across a discarded report from the late seventies calling for a “Little India/eco-tourism” plan for Trinidad.

One of my old UWI student colleagues Krishna Ganessingh  came up with that Little India/eco-tourism plan when he was the economist with the Trinidad Chamber of Commerce in Port of Spain, and that’s how I know of it. 

Instead of following the Ministry of Tourism and looking for tourism that would benefit black people in the towns and beachfront hotels, Krishna looked at what would be the best tourism plan for Trinidad and Tobago given the country’s attractions and the competition in the region.

He discovered very quickly that Trinidad was late in the tourism game and was in no condition to compete for tourists from North America or Europe.  Other  countries like Barbados, Jamaica, Bahamas and Puerto Rico were closer to the desired tourists, had better beaches, hotels, local black culture, and a prepared local population friendly to tourists.  Trinidad just couldn’t compete in the sun, sea and sand tourism game. It was an expensive place.. There were few decent hotels, fewer tourist friendly beaches. It lacked architectural attractions, had  just one pathetic museum and zoo and little else to see in Port of Spain. Carnival  lasted just two days and after that there was nothing for visitors. The Trinidad town population, specifically black people, were not welcoming to white tourists and wanted mostly to rip off the visitors’ foreign currency or valuables. A white tourist would be risking life and limb to go to a fete full of black people or even wandering around the George Street market.

But Trinidad had something unique and highly desirable in the North American and European homelands of the desired tourists.  It was the Little India settlements of Indians out in the countryside, and the fabulous eco-tourism potential, also way out in the countryside. That’s what Krishna suggested in his report as a better tourism plan.

You see in the late seventies and early eighties, we Indians were considered to be very exotic and appealing. Tourists from North America and Europe would love to visit Hindu temples and Muslim mosques,  drop in at Hindu pujas and weddings, chow down on doubles and curry chicken, buy some colourful saris and murtis from the puja stores, live among the Hindus in cute little ranches, take a ride on a buffalo cart.

You couldn’t get this exotic tourism anywhere in the west at the time, and India was very far away, very expensive and exhausting to visit. Trinidad on the other hand was quite close. The Indians spoke English, their settlements were easily accessible and very safe to visit, and perhaps most important, they were not hostile to white tourists as were many black people in Trinidad.  Tourists could be taken directly from the airport down to Couva, Chaguanas, Princes Town, or Debe, bypassing Port of Spain completely!

The eco-tourism plan had a similar  location- out in the countryside. Krishna discovered that Trinidad had a wonderfully unique collection of birds, butterflies, small animals and insects that couldn’t be matched in the American hemisphere.  Because of the way the island had developed over the millennia,  Trinidad’s flora and fauna had concentrated in a relatively small land space.  They could be easily accessed in day trips  to the countryside, forests and beaches.  And yes, the Trinidad countryside was very safe, the Indians who lived there very welcoming and English speaking.

Krishna Ganessingh wrote his tourism suggestion of a surefire  Little India/eco-tourism  plan on behalf of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce and submitted it to the Ministry of Tourism.  It was rejected out of hand by the ministry and probably indignantly too!

Why would the ministry bring tourists to Trinidad and then send them out in the countryside to spend their money on Indians?!!!! Black taxi drivers, black hotel employees, black trinket vendors must benefit from visitors, not Indians out in the countryside who were probably supporters of the Indian opposition parties! It didn’t matter which was the best tourism plan. The only plan that mattered was the one to benefit mostly black people and the towns.

So died the Little India/eco-tourism plan, the last best tourism plan Trinidad ever had.  Racism killed nationalism, again.  But wait a minute. Maybe it could still work today! Sadly, no it can’t.

Today there are Little Indias scattered all over North America and Europe, most of them right there in the big cities. White people  can visit bigger and better Hindu temples than in Trinidad, eat in thousands of Indian restaurants, visit exotic Indian ceremonies, see Bollywood movies,  the whole works, right in their own backyards.  Trinidad’s Little India cannot compete.

As for the Trinidad eco-tourism plan, the basics are still there, but the international competition is rough. Trinidad does not have the infrastructure to compete, and its reputation as a country unsafe for tourists has grown worse. I know for certain that many Trinis in Canada do not recommend that their white Canadian friends visit Trinidad for any reason.

Krishna Ganessingh is dead and gone now, his tourism plan forgotten or never known except to a few to whom he revealed it.   I wonder what he would have said to the current Tourism minister’s  “niche market for exhibitions, Carnival, parties and fetes.”