Sunny business: Trinidad business hotels

Not everyone who visits Trinidad goes for pleasure: some actually go for business, and there are hotels catering specifically to their needs

A view of the pool at Cara Suites, Claxton Bay. Photograph courtesy Cara SuitesCourtyard by Marriott at night. Photograph courtesy Courtyard By MarriottCrewsInn Hotel and Yachting Centre, Trinidad–a sea-front resort. Photographer by Andrea De SilvaThe Cascadia Hotel and Conference Centre, Trinidad. Photograph courtesy Cascadia Hotel And Conference CentreThe Flambeau Restaurant. Photograph courtesy Courtyard By MarriottThe Heritage Suite at the Chancellor Hotel. Photograph courtesy The Chancellor Hotel And Conference Centre

A business visitor to Trinidad who didn’t have a hotel booking enquired at three hotels before he found one he liked. Internet access was at the top of the list of amenities he wanted.

Not all Trinidad hotels can boast of being ready and equipped to welcome the business traveller. But in Trinidad and Tobago’s dynamic economy, which is increasingly attracting attention for its flourishing oil and gas sector, financial markets and a growing manufacturing base, the business traveller wants to be in touch 24/7.

The Courtyard by Marriott Port of Spain was built with the business traveller in mind, so each room comes equipped with free high-speed Internet access, a large desk, an ergonomic chair and two dataport telephones with voice mail.

Liselle Ali, Courtyard’s senior sales manager, said the hotel also has a business centre and offers free wireless access in the lobby.

“If you have a laptop, you can log on at no charge. There’s free printing in the 24-hour-open business centre. We also offer free local faxes and copying of up to 20 pages,” Ali said. It’s more than many travellers expect. “They are usually happy once the Internet works.”

The 119-room Courtyard, which opened in 2004, is off the Audrey Jeffers Highway, just outside Port of Spain. A visitor needing to get to meetings downtown will have to endure no more than a 15-minute drive—even in heavy traffic—to get there.

Most of the Courtyard’s visitors—who represent the oil and gas, telecommunications and banking sectors—are from the United States, and to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

While some high-end, deep-pocketed business travellers can afford every luxury, others travel on tight budgets. So there’s an option of purchasing tokens—$1 to wash, $1 to dry—at the front desk for the self-service laundry.

The Chancellor Hotel and Conference Centre in St Ann’s, a suburb of Port of Spain, is small—only 22 rooms—but offers plenty.

Lisa Shandilya, the Chancellor’s corporate and events manager, said the hotel has rooms to facilitate small workshops and groups of 35, for which there is a large market. It can host up to 60 people and provide secretariat services for conferences. Ensuring meeting rooms are suited to the client’s needs—video conferencing equipment, a multi-media projector—is important. Knowing, too, when to separate warring parties is key to successful event management, in which Shandilya is certified, as she is in information technology.

“Trinidad is like [a] hub in terms of business activity,” Shandilya said. “We don’t have people coming in for leisure at all. Maybe for Carnival, we get one or two.”

Ninety-eight per cent of the Chancellor’s guests, including Canadians, Germans, and South Americans, come to Trinidad to work.

Minutes away from the southern city of San Fernando, Cara Suites markets itself as being accessible to the oil belt in the south and the Pt Lisas industrial estate in central Trinidad.

It boasts, too, of providing audiovisual technicians and conference planning managers. Guests have complimentary use of computers, printers and Internet access.

“All rooms are wired for high-speed Internet access, and the public areas have wireless access,” said general manager Helen Alcala. “Yes, our hotel is positioned as a business/corporate hotel. We cater primarily to this market segment, with an emphasis on the energy and energy-related sector.

Approximately 95 per cent of our guests are here to do business.”

Cara Suites offers a buffet breakfast for those who need to eat and run.

“This is always appreciated—an important meal, and fast,” Alcala said. “In our business, flexibility is an asset, so when our guests need to work unusual hours [or] shifts, we simply change our operational hours to cater for them.”

Some guests stay longer, depending on the progress of their projects: engineering plant expansion, upgrading facilities, leading training programmes, launching a new product.

Cara Suites provides conference and meeting facilities for as few as ten people or as many as 150. For convenience, corporate clients can use Cara Suites’ automated booking system, through which they can get immediate confirmation online.

Cascadia Hotel’s general manager Barry Bidaisee said the business and conference market is sustaining hotel activity at present. Having better airlift to Trinidad—for those business travellers who have to take up to two connecting flights to get to Port of Spain—might help to grow that market further, Bidaisie said.

The Tourism Development Company is going all out to promote the country as a place to meet. Dr James Hepple, TDC president and director of tourism, said the company has hired MCI Marketing Challenges of New York to promote the country’s capacity to hold meetings and conferences.

“Roughly 70 per cent of arrivals to Port of Spain are predominantly for business. It picked up in 2004 and has continued,” Bidaisee said. “Our repeat of business clientele is between 60 and 70 per cent.”

It helps that most of Cascadia’s frontline staff are bilingual in Spanish, French, Italian or German. Bidaisee said the business-class Cascadia caters for international conferences, Caricom- and United Nations-affiliated meetings, and financial- and energy-related events.

The more laid-back business traveller might like the seclusion and sea view offered by CrewsInn Hotel and Yachting Centre in Chaguaramas, west of Port of Spain.

CrewsInn caters predominantly to an international clientele, 80 per cent of whom come to do business related to oil and gas. Many of the guests are associated with offshore contractors, and some stay as long as a month.

CrewsInn is ideal for those who want to escape Port of Spain’s hustle and bustle, heightened nowadays by the construction boom.

And all conveniences are available, including Internet- and cable-ready rooms. Those who need to use the computer in its business centre can do so for TT$10 an hour. The European traveller—Swedes, English and the French—can sip a delectable cup of European coffee at its new coffee shop, Caffè del Mare, while they watch the yachts bob and sway on the calm water.