Friday 3 April, 2020

BHTA: Tourism sector bracing for COVID-19 impact

Chairman of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, Stephen Austin

Chairman of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, Stephen Austin

The island's tourism sector is under threat as the country reported its first two cases of the coronavirus on March 17.

Minister of Tourism and International Trade, Kerri Symmonds, Chairman of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, Stephen Austin, Chairman of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc Sunil Chatrani and other tourism stakeholders were informed of the news during the first quarterly meeting of the BHTA at the Hilton Barbados on Tuesday.  

BHTA Chairman, Stephen Austin stated that the pandemic was a "game-changer" for global economies, especially Barbados.

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Austin reported last week that the island had lost approximately $1.8 million in cancellations. He anticipated that the situation will worsen in the next three to six months as hoteliers such as Intimate Hotels declared $300 000 USD loss in cancellations and vacation and rental properties have indicated that reservations are down by 80 per cent. 

"Bookings are pretty much zero for the next six months and cancellations are accelerating daily," Austin announced. 

He also added following the move to cancel cruises, local restaurants, attractions, and destination management companies have noticed a 50 per cent decrease in business, with some attractions seeing a 60 to 70 per cent decline. 

Austin contested that provisions must be made for hoteliers and their employees to weather this upcoming storm because the foreseeable future of the COVID-19 pandemic meant a loss of jobs and failing businesses. 

“I believe the BHTA role should be to help minimize losses of staff so we can implement normal staff rotation. For some of the businesses if you are going reduce some of the staff, we can find a way to cope by training and retooling people,” he suggested. 

The BHTA chairman informed that the organization will be meeting with the banking association to discuss offering financial assistance to workers. 

“We will be meeting with the banking association to discuss how we can help our workers to get through the next three to six months if they are laid off, if there are short hours and they may need some help with their mortgages and their loans and the reality is how many people live paycheck to paycheck.”

BHTA will present a paper to Government with suggestions as to how they can collaborate with Government to ensure that tourism stakeholders continue to operate over the next three to six months. 

“With borders in Canada, the UK and Germany and all the other borders being closed now we expect that airlines will also stop flying and we need to find a way to maybe defer payments for vat or tax relief in terms of payment of land tax or penalties and interest,” Austin said. 

“We have to do all possible within our domain to recover from this and we shouldn’t panic, we should remain positive. We have to look forward to a solution. I believe that coming out of this Barbados will come out stronger,” he added. 

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