N Touch
Sunday 19 August 2018
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No tourists to shop, locals hold on to their cash

Businesses struggle as economy remains at a standstill

A lone shopper walks in the distance along mostly empty corridors, and shops, of the Gulf City Mall on the Saturday before Christmas 2017.

Tobago businessmen are still struggling with an economy in crisis, brought on in the main by the collapse of the sea bridge over the last year.

Businessman James Morshead, hopeful for a turnaround of the economy, said, hwoever, it would take time to restore confidence in travellers, especially in the domestic market, to once again begin to visit the island.

Owner of RT Morshead Gourmet Foods Limited in Mt Pleasant, Morshead explained that spending on food products was dependent on the tourism sector, and therefore a drop in tourist arrivals would mean a drop in sales.

“The situation with the vessel (on the sea bridge) has led to a business downturn in Tobago. I did suffer losses during that period and we had to make internal adjustments to cope with the banker,” he said in a recent interview.

“Now that the vessel (T&T Spirit) is back up and running, hopefully business will pick back up, once the confidence in the Trinidad tourism market is rebuilt. Once that is rebuilt, we can then move forward.

“Once we have the vessels up and running again and the confidence in the Trinidad traveling public is rebuilt, the Trinidad tourism sector will return once more, but that would take time,” he said.

“I have not seen the resurgence as yet because we still have not had enough time for the population to get comfortable with travelling again, that would take time to heal,” he said.

Claude Almandoz, owner of Almandoz Hardware in Scarborough, said that his business recorded a 30 per cent drop in business as a result of problems with sea bridge.

“With the loss of the ferry, we saw a slowdown in our day to day business. We had to tighten our buying and spending, that is the first thing, we have seen a 30 per cent drop in our business,” he said.

But even with the return of the TT Spirit to the Seabridge, Almandoz also said that even with the T&T Spirit back on the sea bridge, it would take time for business to return to normal.

“With the return of the ferry, we’re not seeing the increase back to the previous levels, so it is still problematic. At this very moment, we are going to be adjusting on labour, which is the last thing in our adjustments. That is something that is coming as a reality for us here in Tobago, but we are going to be cutting back on labour in our private businesses because economy-wise, we’re not seeing the spending going on, people are just holding back right now,” he said. Almandoz described the Tobago economy as being at a standstill.

“It seems as though we have brakes on in Tobago right now… it is very, very difficult at this moment in time to see how we are going forward in this economy.

“There is no direct direction from both the Tobago House of Assembly and the central government at this time in what we are to focus our thoughts and efforts on deal with the economic crisis. No proper direction on initiatives so people could say they feel confident in the economy at this time to spend their money or what little mony they have at this time,” he said.

Another businessman, owner of a computer store said he has seen experienced a drastic drop in sales and income, which meant having to make adjustments.

“I have had a 50/60 per cent drop in my business. With that I would have had to offer additional services since I could not have offered the sale of commodities, because truth be told I couldn’t get supplies (via the sea bridge). So, I expanded into services, as I didn’t have to wait on the boat for that. I also adjusted my business hours, as I am now opening earlier and closing later,” he said.

He reported that the return of a ferry to the sea bridge has not improved his circumstances much, that restoring confidence in the economy would take time.

“Although the boat is back I don’t think that would alleviate the situation, maybe until the next nine months to a year, the confidence needs to be rebuilt. The damage has already been done and for you to see the effects of the return of the ferry, you won’t see that at this time,” he said.

He suggested a cash injection to help businessmen weather the crisis, and to support plans for increase in visitors to the island.

“Right now, we need some serious cash injection into the economy… we need that other than that there is nothing else that I can see at this time to boost the economy, we need an influx of persons/visitors as well to the island, we need like 100,000 more people on the island,” he said.


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