Hoteliers in Tobago say they fear that all may be lost as the domestic tourism market has dried up since Trinidadians are having difficulty accessing the island and the international tourists are not coming although the borders are open.
Owners said yesterday they’ve exhausted their savings and liquidated assets however their recently upgraded hotel rooms are still empty and they need solutions.
Stories of mounting debt and financial loss in Tobago’s tourism sector have been a reoccurring theme since the onset of the Pandemic last year but Hoteliers in Tobago revealed things have gotten worst this year. Guardian Media reached out to President of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association Chris James for a review of the island’s arrivals for the July/August vacation period, he said occupancy is at an all-time low.
“With only 3 flights a day from CAL (Caribbean Airlines) and the ferries at half capacity, Tobago just does not have enough visitors to make it economically viable to open – it’s not just hotels, restaurants, tours and activities as well, it costs more to open than they can make.”
Michael Roberts of Mike’s Resort at Crown Point said 2021 has turned out to be the “worst ever” in his fifteen years of operations.
“Last year was bad but we still had a few guests here and there from the domestic market coming over to relax in a different environment but even that has disappeared. The few guests we had are saying that they can’t get flights because not everyone likes the boat.”
Roberts said the island misses the seasonal business as typically seen during Christmas and Easter. He said the three daily flights available on air bridge are reserved for essential travel and leaves no room for the domestic leisure travel market to thrive.
Robert said staying afloat is impossible.
“I have not had any guests for the last four months, but I have to still pay utility bills, you are looking at $12,000 for electricity $3,000 monthly for water and internet is another bill we have to find a way to finance.”
He said his utilities were disconnected on several occasions. Roberts said he accessed the government’s property upgrade grant but the “rooms are upgraded and empty.”
He said as difficult as things are, he still has to find ways to assist the less fortunate in his community because he is often approached by single mothers and families in need of assistance with basic items such as food.
General Manager at the Tropikist Hotel Safiya Hosein said the situation is bleak.
“Occupancy is low and customers are making bookings but then the bookings get cancelled because persons do not have confirmed flights. Most of our guests want to run away for maybe two or three days but they don’t want to risk being stranded at the airport.”
Hosein who has been with Tropikist since 2007, said she understands the need for the travel restrictions but there must be a balance.
“Yes we have people losing their lives and that’s a serious situation but there are also persons losing their livelihoods. We can’t afford to pay all of our staff so we are operating on skeletal staff, we are in a pandemic but once the proper safety measures are implemented with public education and sensitization on vaccination we can survive and go on to thrive.”
She said the government should allow local travel.
But responding to concerns about the beleaguered domestic tourism market, Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis said “we are in a pandemic with rising cases and restricted inter-island travel.” Stating that rooms will “not die, but people will continue to die if we don’t act responsibly”, the Chief Secretary said hoteliers should vaccinate and encourage others to be vaccinated as he does not see the island returning to any semblance of normalcy any other way.