Doing Business in the Financial Capital of the Caribbean

First things first: check the calendar. Trinidad and Tobago has more holidays than most other countries in the world, so make sure you’re not planning to sign a big contract on Emancipation Day, or hold a business luncheon with Muslim colleagues on Eid-ul-Fitr.

Be sure to get all the dates, including ones that depend on the moon, like Hosay or Divali. There are others that many people still tend to overlook, like Spiritual Baptist/Shouter Liberation Day, March 30, which commemorates the struggle of the believers of this indigenous religion. (Yes, you guessed right, T&T is the only country in the world that has a public holiday for the Spiritual Baptist faith.)

That said, the place buzzes like a beehive all the time’amplified now by an infrastructure that is incredibly modern for a tropical island less than 2,000 square miles. And size does matter here: it’s only two degrees of separation between everyone on the island. Seriously. And Trinis know how to network’most can be found on Facebook, LinkedIn or TriniScene.com.

Depending on your area of interest, if you’re an investor with no experience of the country, you might want to start out by contacting the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce, the Energy Chamber or the Manufacturers’ Association (all are online).

All three daily newspapers publish a business section, which can be very informative. All are online (www.trinidadexpress.com, www.guardian.co.tt and www.newsday.co.tt). You can also check out Energy Caribbean and the Trinidad and Tobago Business Guide.

The Trinidadian theory of relativity: although they can move at warp speed when they want to, most Trinidadians remain fairly laid back about the whole concept of time. More often than not, appointments have an understood leeway of half an hour because well, you’ll see the traffic. At peak time, covering just one mile can take an hour. So factor in lots of taxi time, especially if it rains, and be patient; for business meetings, you will impress by being punctual.

Government offices are legendary for taking half a day to get anything done. But a smile and a bit of polite conversation usually work wonders. The customer service in most stores and offices could still do with some fine-tuning, but again, smile, be polite and chatty, and the innate Trini hospitality should kick in.

Getting a handle on the dialect can be tough, but hang in there. It’s fairly close to English so you should get at least the gist of it. Whatever you do, don’t come across as patronizing. As with all meetings, especially in an innuendo-rich culture like this, make sure deliverables, actions and those responsible are clearly identified and this is circulated immediately after the meeting to all parties.

The business community tends to like dressing up, so if you’re out to impress, wear the Savile Row pinstripe or the Ann Taylor power pants. (Don’t worry about sweating like a marathon runner; most offices are air-conditioned to Arctic temperatures.) They do like their brands, these Trinis, and they have a discerning eye for quality. Many shop in Miami and New York, so don’t be surprised by the prevalence of Prada and Gucci apparel.

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