Even as the world celebrates World Tourism Day from September 26 to September 29, destinations across the world are still reeling from the fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the launch of the Tourism COVID-19 policy brief UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, described the fallout experienced by developing countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic as a “global emergency.”
“Particularly for many small island developing states and many African countries. For women rural communities, indigenous peoples and many other marginalized populations tourism has been a vehicle for integration empowerment and generating income.”
He said while it is imperative that we rebuild the tourism sector, it must be done in a way that is safe equitable and climate-friendly. According to Guterres, the first response must be to attend to the socio-economic impacts of the crisis.
Locally Tourism officials say with proper support and planning Tobago’s Tourism sector will not only rebound but also thrive. President of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association Chris James says he agrees with the statement, as his members have not earned any money since March.
“Since the lockdown everything has been closed but we have still had to pay upkeep costs like utilities and security and maintenance costs but we have not been earning anything.”
James said due to the pandemic more than six thousand persons are now unemployed and the sector needs more support to prevent further losses. And while the government provided TT 50 million dollars to assist with upgrades property owners need support in the short term.
“What we really need in the first instance is the continuation of the moratorium in the banks, the moratorium needs to be extended because there is no money to pay and going forward we need consolidation of loans.”
He suggested that the government consider reintroducing the Government Guarantee Loan programme for persons in the sector and a long-term plan must also be developed, as this will rebuild confidence in the destination.
“We need to build a five year plan that boasts about all these nice things we just spoke about the new airport the new ferries but also gives us attainable timelines that we know we can reach to get us back up to the figures we had in the two thousands and rebuild the domestic line.”
He said Tobago needs tourism, as the sector doesn’t only provide for the six persons directly involved, as farmers, fishermen and many other downstream providers also benefit from the sector. As it relates to building a sustainable tourism sector James said Tobago is strategically poised to benefit when the sector rebounds.
“Our marketing is already focussed on the green initiatives our marketing is talking about heritage and all of that and we are also in a position where we are not a mass tourism destination. The number one concern for travellers now is security and they feel less safe in a destination that offers the all-inclusive experience they are going to feel much safer in a destination like Tobago.”
He said all internal and external stakeholders must be consulted for the plan to be effectively developed and executed. James said the association is in talks with the Minister of Tourism, Randall Mitchell, to look at ways to rebuild the sector. Calls to the Minister’s mobile phone for comment were unanswered.