Thursday 9 July, 2020

THTA 'disappointed' over proposed distribution of $50M tourism grant

The Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA) said it was disappointed by the proposed distribution of a $50 million Tourism Grant to be administered by the Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd. (TTAL).

In a statement, the THTA said the criteria to access the grant is 'onerous and not in keeping with emergency relief'. 

"The Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA) wishes to register its disappointment over the proposed distribution of the recently announced $50M Tourism Grant to be administered by the Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd (TTAL).

"TTAL, under the direction of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), has proposed a disbursement of TTD $22M to small properties (2-7 rooms), $24M to medium-sized properties (8-74 rooms) and $4M to large properties (75 rooms and above)."

"The criteria to access the grant is onerous and not in keeping with emergency relief, ensuring that the majority of business owners, particularly those in the small and medium-sized accommodation sectors will be unable to apply."

"This could be the end for many small and medium-sized businesses, most of whom were already suffering before the pandemic hit Trinidad and Tobago."

The THTA said tourism stakeholders have been decimated by the fallout of the pandemic which has halted tourism as countries have shut their borders. 

"The Tobago Tourism industry has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic. We acknowledge that it is not the Government’s responsibility or intention to fund the complete upgrade of tourism facilities to international standards."

"However, whatever government funding is provided must place the tourism industry on the path to sustainability, competitiveness, and increased contribution to GDP. While we appreciate the Government honouring its commitment to aid the recovery of the accommodation sector, we consider the proposed method to be fundamentally flawed."

"Despite submitting our recommendations for an equitable accommodation relief grant, as requested by the THA, it appears our suggestions were completely ignored. We note the staggering lack of parity in the proposed grant structure and observe that no consideration whatsoever has been given to allocating funds to accommodation providers on a per room basis.

The THTA said some of the figures were 'puzzling':

"It is particularly puzzling to us how TTAL and the THA came up with a combined figure of 449 small and medium-sized properties when having seen the list from TTAL 116 listed have no room count and 154 listed have no online content, many are unknown to us. We can only assume that the THA intends to disburse funds to previously unregistered businesses/sole proprietors that have been operating outside of the legal framework."

"Over 5000 people work in the Tobago tourism industry, making it the largest employer after the THA. The large accommodation sector employs over 1000 people yet this sector has inexplicably been awarded the smallest proportion of the relief grant. The large hotels alone pay in excess of $33M in taxes annually."

"It is the large and medium-sized properties that guarantee airlift, as foreign tour operators will generally not contract with small accommodation providers. Neglecting the large hotels will only delay, or worse yet prevent, the revival of an already fragile industry, most of whose employees have yet to receive any salary or rent relief grants. The allied sector – diving, tours, food and beverage, transport, entertainment, weddings and events, agriculture, to name a few – all depend on the tourism sector, and in particular the large and medium-sized hotels, for their survival."

The THTA said it rejects the proposed distribution grant.

"We reject the proposed grant distribution outright and are appealing to the THA to revise their strategy immediately in order to bring some much-needed relief to this critical industry."

"We propose that the THA abandon this method of grant distribution and instead put the $50M Tourism Grant under the control of the Business Development Unit of the Division of Community Development, Enterprise Development and Labour. Grants and or Loans can then be made available to qualifying applicants from the accommodation sector, loans at low interest rates for ten years with a moratorium on repayment for 2 years."

"This is a much better way to ensure recovery of the tourism industry and will encourage greater participation from the small and medium sized properties."

"We have expressed our concerns and alternative proposal to Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis in the hope that he can bring some resolution to this time sensitive and critical issue, our hope is that it can be done in a truly collaborative manner that benefits destination Tobago."

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