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TRINIDAD: They Played, They Lost, Everybody’s Happy

Peter Richards

PORT OF SPAIN, Jun 27 2006 (IPS) - It failed to score a goal during its debut performance in the ongoing 2006 World Cup in Germany, but Trinidad and Tobago is seeking to gain as much mileage as possible from the appearance of its footballers, dubbed the Soca Warriors, at the world’s premier sporting event.

Prime Minister Patrick Manning has already announced that his administration intends to follow up on the success of being the smallest nation ever to grace the World Cup tournament by sending trade and cultural missions to several countries across the globe.

“My friends, because of the Soca Warriors, we are now even better prepared for international relations in any field, whether it be in LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas), steel, ammonia or methanol. We are now more inspired than ever to take on the world,” he said at a ceremony honouring the players on the weekend.

Last September, the Trinidad and Tobago government said the output from the LNG sector was estimated at 15.1 metric tones per year (mtpa), positioning the oil-rich nation as one of the leaders in LNG production in the world.

The government said output in the petro-chemical sector was also expected to expand sharply with the commissioning of at least five new plants.

Manning said the first trade and cultural mission is scheduled to depart for Europe by the end of July, and it will include a steel band and a cultural contingent representing the nation’s diversity and professionals to sell the country.

“The team’s performances have massively lifted the country out of the third world mindset. They must cause us now to raise the game of national development to a commensurate level,” said the Express newspaper in an editorial.

Sports Minister Roger Boynes said that it was important for Trinidad and Tobago to maximise the opportunities that would follow the team’s creditable performances at the World Cup.

“What the Soca Warriors have done to Trinidad and Tobago, the kind of public relations, the kind of promotion that we have got through this event. We have to thank all those boys, all of the technical staff to really and truly give that boost to its image,” he added.

Even though they failed to make it past the first round of the tournament, tourism officials agree that the team coached by Leo Beenhakker of Holland and captained by Dwight Yorke, undoubtedly the best known international footballer from the island, made their job of selling the oil-rich republic much easier.

Under the theme, “Soca Warriors, Small Country… Big Passion”, the Ministry of Tourism entered into an agreement with the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) to “maximise on the tremendous marketing and branding opportunity made available” by the island’s qualification for the World Cup event in Germany.

“The main focus of the Soca Warriors project is to increase awareness of Trinidad and Tobago as a tourist destination by developing, producing, placing, funding and managing the content of all relevant marketing programmes for the promotion of Trinidad and Tobago tourism product,” said Tourism Minister Howard Chin Lee.

Trinidad and Tobago was the sole sponsor of the internet café and sports bar at the main FIFA Media Centre in Berlin, and Chin Lee said that provided a good opportunity to sell the island since the media centre, utilised by more than 14,000 journalists, was operated by World Travel Awards (WTA), the London-based tourism and travel marketing company.

In addition, the island spent an estimated 1.6 million dollars to send a 129-member cultural group to Germany for the first round games, and the “Soca Caravan”, as it was dubbed, performed in all of the major cities where the World Cup games were played.

“That was the strategy. We wanted to provide information to the people who would be attending the game and to act as a focal point for the diaspora, because that’s an important source of our business as well,” said James Hepple, president of the Tourism Development Company.

“What we’re here for is to get Trinidad and Tobago’s name out into the world, through events like this, but more from the print and electronic coverage we’ve gotten. And we’ve had a lot of local and international journalists pick up on what we’ve been doing. Some stories carried by the local German stations have gone national.”

“The return on investment is going to be huge. We’re talking millions of dollars worth of coverage. You couldn’t buy this kind of advertising,” Hepple added.

The marketing budget for 2006 is slightly higher than the 8.3 million dollars that had been budgeted for 2005, when more than 420,000 visitors came to the island. Manning said that in order to attain the critical mass of international quality business and resort hotel rooms, his administration proposes to “attract major brands that will bring with them, their own advertising, marketing networks and destination profile enhancement”.

“Simultaneously we will target hotel chains as well as potential developers and investors with the ultimate objective of placing Trinidad and Tobago on their investment list and selling them on specific project concept possibilities,” he said.

The need for more hotel space is vital as Trinidad and Tobago will be one of the venues for yet another global sporting event when it hosts games involving India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the 2007 International Cricket Committee World Cup tournament that will be held in the Caribbean for the first time.

Last year, the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce noted that for the first time, the island was poised “to really take advantage of the growth in tourism” and following the success of the Soca Warriors in Germany, urged the authorities as well as the business community “to support sport on a larger scale as Trinidad and Tobago strives towards developed nation status” the Manning administration said must be achieved by 2020.

“Corporate Trinidad and Tobago has been slow to exploit the business potential of sport. Our inputs have been more in the ‘congratulating’ of winners than in the investment in the athletes or events,” said Tony Harford, whose company, Allsport Promotions, has been involved in promoting sporting events throughout the Caribbean.

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