Sunday 5 July, 2020

Watch: 5,000 jobless; Tobago hoteliers in the dark on gov’t grants

Mt Irvine Bay Resort

Mt Irvine Bay Resort

Since COVID-19 reached Trinidad and Tobago’s shores, the government has put multiple measures in place to mitigate the spread of the virus including the closing of borders and the shutting down of businesses that require congregation to operate. One of the industries most affected is the hotel and tourism sector in Tobago. It’s a concern that’s been mounting ever since they shut down in early March. 

President of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association, Chris James and Owner/Executive Chairman of the Mount Irvine Bay Resort, Jacqueline Yorke-Westcott say they’ve been struggling to get information from the government regarding what is expected of them during this time to access the $50 million grant promised to them. 

“All of these things take time to access and no one has given us any criteria that we need to meet in order to these things. No one has given us any application forms and it’s not for the want of asking, we’ve been asking since we closed,” Yorke-Westcott said. 

Another major concern is the employees at the hotels in Tobago. Yorke-Wescott says with 5,000 people now on the breadline, none of them have gotten word about receiving the government’s grants despite sending in their applications. 

“Although we’ve had promises from the government in terms of grant relief for the hotels and more importantly, grant relief for the employees, nothing to date has been forthcoming,” she said. 

Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert had announced that the money was set aside for hotels in Tobago to do upgrades to facilitate a better guest experience when borders finally reopen, but James says information on this isn’t forthcoming. 

“We’re noticing that nobody in the press conferences; the ministers are not talking about tourism. Tourism can be a tremendous boost to an economy. Our plan is to do a domestic campaign first, then a regional,” he said. 

Bookings have already been streaming in despite the border closure. Cruise lines have already claimed that they’ll be docking in Tobago from as early as November and Virgin Airlines has also expressed interest in returning before the end of the year, but James says these plans only cultivate anxiety since they're not sure that the government is considering their way forward. 

“If we can be prepared and ready and those flights and bookings materialise, it brings US dollars into the country, which I’d have thought the government would be very pleased about. It’s something we need to pay off some of this debt that’s coming on,” he said. 

They’ve praised the government’s efforts in combating the virus so far, but with mounting difficulty in getting their bills paid, the hoteliers say they just want clarity and information so that they can begin to plan for the future of tourism in Tobago. 

“We asked for a deferment of electricity bills, utility bills and taxes because we’ve got no income and I now know that members are calling in saying they’ve gotten immediate disconnection notices from T&TEC; we cannot pay. We have no money,” James said. 

Tobago’s hotels, according to the association, have been functioning under a 32% capacity for quite some time before COVID-19. James says with numbers like these, it’s impossible for hotels to have enough money saved to bail themselves out. 

With no tourism or agriculture-based representation on the Prime Minister’s Roadmap to Recovery Team, hoteliers in Tobago are concerned that their issues are being left on the back burner. 

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