Tobago’s tourism stakeholders say they would like Finance Minister Colm Imbert to roll out a “rescue package” and help in the projection of a solid plan for the survival of Tobago’s private sector in the tourism industry.
One hotelier, Jacqueline Yorke-Westcott, said Secretary of Finance and the Economy Secretary Joel Jack’s revelation on Wednesday that Tobago’s economy had suffered a 14 per cent decrease as a result of COVID-19 “tells little of what is happening in Tobago.”
Jack gave the detail during the Tobago House of Assembly’s post-Executive Council press briefing. However, Yorke-Westcott said the economic fallout from COVID-19 “seems way more than that. I think he does not want to give us the real figure.”
“We are at zero occupancies. Once we have no guests, you don’t have people in restaurants, using taxis and patronising the tourism allied sector,” she said.
Like their counterparts around the world, the tourism sector has collapsed as many borders remain closed to create to prevent the spread of the virus.
Yorke-Westcott said she believes the Government needs to take a closer look at what is happening to the private sector.
“I don’t think the Government is aware of the impact on the private sector. Tobago’s workforce, working for the Government is around 62 per cent and they retain their jobs so everything seems all right. But that masks what is truly happening with the sector that has essentially collapsed,” the Mt Irvine Bay Resort owner said.
“Unless something is done, not a stimulus but a rescue package for the private sector…the private sector will dwindle and what will happen is a system where there is a smaller private sector and that will make Tobago more dependent on Trinidad, than ever.”
She said they were happy to have been given some support during the tough time.
“We remain grateful to the Government for the $50 million grant and the $300 million 75 per cent loan guarantee programme for small and medium-sized businesses. We do not want more hand-outs,” she said.
The Tobago Tourism Agency Limited (TTAL) began distribution of the 50 million dollar Tourism Accommodation Relief Grants this week. The programme was initiated by the THA to ensure the island’s tourism sector can be helped onto a pathway to wider economic and social recovery post-COVID-19.
TTAL has so far received 18 successful applications for the first tranche of their grants from a mixture of hotels, villas, self-catering apartments and guest houses. Property owners can access funding as categorised by their number of guestrooms, ranging from a maximum of $100,000 for 2-7 rooms, $300,000 for 8-50 rooms, $500,000 for 51-99 rooms and $600,000 for 100 rooms or more. TTAL has received over 50 applications and has been undertaking comprehensive audits of each property to determine f the owners qualify for the grants. Speaking about the programme, Yorke-Westcott said: “The stringent requirements for the loan guarantee programme prevent many persons from accessing it as many businesses’ taxes are not up to date and audited accounts for the past three years. Many of these businesses are mom and pop establishments and will not pay for audited accounts. Even big businesses are behind on their taxes because of the pandemic.
Carol Ann Birchwood-James, another hotelier, said it was important for there to be some kind of projection for the future of the sector as far as the budget was concerned.
“We keep saying we need to hear from the budget, some kind of projection. What conditions in the country will allow the borders to open? What do we do in the meantime, in addition to repairing our properties? What will the “new normal” be like when we reopen? How do we market the islands?”
She said marketing has to be “seriously” addressed going forward. She expressed disappointment at the marketing associated with the recently-held 2020 Hero Caribbean Professional League (CPL) in Trinidad.
“There is the critical case of the CPL where everything was basically said about Trinidad. Now and then they tacked on something about Pigeon Point,” the Canoe Bay Beach Resort owner said.
“Yes, there are two separate entities to market the islands separately but sometimes, both islands can be marketed together.