The Tobago Division, TT Chamber of Industry & Commerce and the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA) are calling for an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister and representatives from various ministries and sectors to discuss strategies than can be implemented by the island's businessmen to withstand the significant fallout from the coronavirus (covid19).
Members of the chamber and tourism association met on Friday at the chamber's Milford Road headquarters, Scarborough, expressing grave concern about the island's ability to combat covid19 and the future of businesses and the tourism sector.
The island has finally resolved its inter-island transport woes but with the travel restrictions set by Government, immediate cancellation of the cruise ship season, cancellation of Tobago Jazz Experience 2020 and the postponement of the Buccoo Easter goat and crab race, the economic ramifications could be catastrophic.
Speaking to reporters after the three-hour meeting, chamber president Diane Hadad, complained neither the government nor the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has reached out to its members to discuss the possible impact of covid19 on the business community.
She said the THA, specifically, has erred in failing to prepare Tobagonians for covid19 after the virus was detected in China, last December.
"From the Tobago House of Assembly perspective, the entire (PNM internal) election that just took place has had the health sector on a sabbatical. We have had a clear lack of leadership guidelines. So, Tobago did not have any conversation going in for something like this."
Hadad added, "We would like to ask publicly the head of our country, our Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, to bring one of his high-powered teams which will consist of finance, his health sector, transport, both by sea and air, security services, utilities, labour and representatives of the board of Inland Revenue and that authority.
"The reason for this is these are the aspects that will be hurting and, therefore, we need to understand what is really the plan for the little island of Tobago."
She predicted Tobago's "already limping economy" will be deeply affected by the measures to combat the spread of covid19.
"We are a little island at the end of a line and so how does this hurt us from a matter of survival? That has to do with basic food and drink and the very cleaning products that we speak about."
Hadad added: "We are fully dependent on an air- and seabridge to bring for us our food and our drink and our cleaning supplies and, therefore, because of that we probably have a little bit more concern than our brothers and sisters in Trinidad from that perspective, because once things land in Trinidad they can stay in Trinidad.
"However, it doesn't mean that things will continue landing in Trinidad because we are so heavily dependent on imports, rather than a country that has been able to see about itself."
Hadad said businessmen are yet to get a clear picture as to the way forward over the next six to eight months.
"Having left the room, there was not a clear way forward and so we have some to a stage where there needs to be some measure of communication from the authorities with the agencies on the island of Tobago."
Hadad also noted there is no local lab or health centre whereby tests could be carried out.
"We also feel that needs to be addressed in terms of one on the island so that people can go there. We don't want people scrambling up to the Scarborough Hospital where further contamination or passing of it can be done without some form of protection. There is a centre in Trinidad and, therefore, we feel something needs to be set up here."
Chief Medical officer Roshan Parasram on Wednesday said all confirmed coronavirus patients in Tobago will be treated in Trinidad.
ENORMOUS REVENUE LOSS
THTA president Chris James predicted hoteliers will experience a tremendous loss in revenue because of covid19 over the next few months.
He said they have already been told by UK tour operators to expect anywhere between a 60 to 80 per cent drop in bookings.
"So, with that level of loss, because we are already seeing a tremendous amount of cancellations, I will be calculating the loss ultimately – the cancellations are coming in too quick."
James said apart from the cancellation of the Tobago Jazz Experience and some of the popular Easter activities, they have also lost weddings and other social events.
"So, the revenue losses are enormous."
To compound matters, he said Condor, which has two remaining flights, on March 17 and 24, usually brings in 16 per cent of Tobago's visitors but will not come close to that figure.
"So, that is quite a heavy loss there."
He said another airline, Sunwing, is ending its services to the island three weeks earlier than anticipated "so we have lost almost a month's revenue there."
James said hoteliers are already strapped for finances.
"We starting from a very low base of any financial savings that we could have because of the different things that have happened over the last number of years. We don't have the money."
He said a meeting with the Prime Minister is a must.
"We need to sit down with this high-powered group to decide how we are going to survive the next six to eight months because there is no way that properties could continue with these dwindling kinds of occupancy projections unless we get some assistance.
"So, we need to sit down and look for a way forward with this group because we cannot afford to close our hotels and the staff, people will not want us to send all the staff home. We need to find a solution to going forward."
GEORGE: VIRUS OF INACTIVITY
Martin George, chairman of Tobago Business Chamber, said while the chamber is concerned about the cancellation of the Tobago Jazz Festival and the sailings of seven cruise ships because of covid19, the island's businessmen have been suffering for decades with what he called the "virus of inactivity, declining sales and tourist arrivals and poor management and leadership, generally from the THA."
He continued: "So, while the coronavirus is something new on the frontier, it is a situation where the Tobago business people have been suffering the virus of incompetent leadership for decades and that is not something that a knee-jerk reaction would cure. So, we need to look at it holistically."
George, in a Whatsapp voice message, said the members of the business community must take a long-term view of their viability and sustainability.
"We need to work along with whoever will be the incoming Chief Secretary and we pledge our support for them, we pledge our support for the new political leader of the PNM because that is someone who has now been sworn in as a councillor.
"So that we are willing to work with the stakeholders and those in power to ensure that we create a sustainable economic environment in Tobago."