With the presentation of the national budget only a few days away, Castara hoteliers are fearful they will lose their properties if they are required to pay property tax.
Like their counterparts worldwide, the community’s once-booming tourism sector is in a slump due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Located on the North-Western end of the Tobago, Castara is famed as being a tourism model for the island. The community boasts of promoting eco-tourism and having high occupancy rates year-round.
Speaking with Tobago Today, Castara Tourism Development Agency (CTDA) president Brian Taylor said the community was not spared the effects of COVID-19, as all tourism-related businesses are now closed.
He said the community fears things will become worse after the budget.
“We hear that they will be bringing back the property tax. I’m not sure if any consideration will be given to the fact that we are not earning any money, and even after the borders are opened, it will take a while for persons to get comfortable with traveling again,” Taylor said.
He added, “The country has developed a poor reputation for dealing with the spread of COVID-19 and other destinations may seem more favourable.”
The guesthouse and boat tour operator, with 20 years of experience in the industry, said he had to take drastic measures to survive.
“I had to rip the seats out of my tour boat and convert it into a fishing vessel. Right now in Castara, it’s about basic bread and butter, not even business as usual any more because we have to eat.”
He said stakeholders have been communicating with government officials to access the relief grants but noted “the relief grants are very slow in coming.”
Elaborating on the hoteliers’ concerns, he said, “There is an overwhelming fear that no consideration would be given to those in the sector who may own large structures but have no means of income.”
In 2018, the European Union approved and funded a project with CTDA to develop eco-friendly dishwashing liquid and takeaway food boxes for sale in the area.
But Taylor said that project has since been put on hold.
“Our major clients were hotels and restaurants in the area, with all of those closed we had to pause operations because we could not sustain staff.”
Taylor said unlike many other places on the island, the majority of villagers in the area were dependent on tourism, as many were not employed by the Government or the Tobago House of Assembly.
He said he fears the impact of the property tax will be greater in Castara because of the increased unemployment situation.
Efforts to reach Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis, who is also Secretary in the Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation, for a comment on the issue were unsuccessful as he did not answer his cellphone.