The Tobago business community has welcomed Government's decision to ban the Italian cruise ship, Costa Magica, from entering local shores over fear that some of its passengers may have been exposed to the coronavirus (covid19).
However, they said their businesses would suffer losses.
Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association vice-president Carol-Ann Birchwood James told Sunday Newsday the businesses, including hers, benefit tremendously from the patronage of tourists on board the cruise ship.
She said the Costa Magica, which has a capacity to accommodate about 4,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members, is the largest of all the cruise ships that dock in Tobago during the season.
Birchwood-James said its passengers mostly come from France, Italy, Guadeloupe and Martinique.
"So, that is the biggest cruise ship and the black French people especially, they buy a lot of stuff because I have a booth opposite the port. I sell dresses and we get good sales from them. So, it is a blow for us," she said.
The Costa Magica, which brought tourists to Tobago several weeks ago, was expected to dock at the Scarborough Port, today, but Government banned the vessel from sailing to the island because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, which has already affected an estimated 100,000 people around the world.
Government was especially fearful of non-nationals from China, Italy, Iran, Singapore and South Korea, contracting the virus and bringing it to TT. These countries already have reported confirmed cases of covid19. People would have been allowed into TT only if they were away from their countries for a period of 14 days. The policy does not apply to national or permanent residents. There are no confirmed cases of covid19 in TT currently.
Birchwood-James said though, a ban has not been imposed on the Viking Princess, which is expected to dock at the port today. The cruise ship, which originates from Brazil, has a capacity to hold 900 passengers. She is hoping businessmen will receive some patronage from the tourists on the vessel. "We are going out there in faith."
Birchwood-James said although the ban on the Costa Magica would be an economic blow to Tobago, the move is necessary to protect the health of Tobagonians.
She said: "This is one of the hazards of doing business. You have these things from time to time and people are dying from this virus and, therefore, we have to take precautions in a small society. "The Government has put their ban in the interest of all of us and we just have to comply. There is nothing that we can do. Although we are very disappointed, in the circumstances the government has done the right thing in the interest of all of us."
To compound matters, Birchwood-James said the cruise ship season on the island is very short. "The first ship came at the end of December. So, two and a half months of cruise ship business, that cannot work. We have our taxi drivers. We need foreign exchange. So, we have to see how we can lure the ships to come throughout the year have a bigger season."
She urged the authorities to consider extending the cruise ship season. "What we are hoping is that the authorities in future will negotiate. Being further south has been a problem for us. But we can negotiate to have cruise ships all throughout the year like the other Caribbean islands."