Former Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA) president and restaurant owner Nicholas Hardwicke is hoping the Government will create new initiatives to attract foreign investment even as it attempts to prevent the spread of covid19.
Among other measures, the Prime Minister announced on August 15 that all food establishments will again be limited to take-out and curbside service for 28 days.
This restriction is expected to be reviewed on September 13.
Hardwicke, owner of the Sea Horse Inn Restaurant in Black Rock, told Newsday the Government should use this second period of lockdown to devise strategies to draw investment.
“The prime minister has been very clear, the country can only afford so much and because of the other situations affecting the economy, namely the contraction in oil and gas prices, there are limits on what can be done,” he said.
“So what I am hoping is that the Government finds a way to expand the business space going forward and bring some initiatives that create a proper environment for further investment and to attract foreign direct investment.
“That seems to be the way to go, to me. If we can’t afford to do things ourselves or facilitate matters, then let us create an environment which facilitates foreign investment coming in and that expands the business space and therefore, expands eventually down the line, where businesses can recoup their losses.”
Noting his call for the Government to look at ways to attract direct foreign investment is long term, Hardwicke said, “It is one that is aimed at sustainability for the future whilst we cope with this situation now.”
Chairman of the Tobago Chamber of Commerce Martin George, in May called for the Foreign Investmen Act to be repealed, as it was still too complicated and a hindrance to investors.
In July, Secretary of Finance and the Economy Joel Jack said there was a need to cut the red tape affecting foreign investment.
Jack said, "We’re therefore required to refine all the existing institutional structures and provide a greater enabling environment for doing business here in Tobago."
Addressing the challenges posed by the spike in covid19 cases locally, Hardwicke said take-out or curbside pick-up is not a sustainable business model for restaurants going forward.
Hardwicke observed many people are now wary about buying food outdoors.
“People are unnerved by the recent spike in cases, so naturally people are being cautious and people are not going out as much as they were before.
“With the second lockdown... there is less opportunity to eke out a small amount of income now because people are being a lot more wary and staying home.”
Hardwicke said since Dr Rowley announcement's of a return to curbside pick-up services, employees had to be sent home.
He said: “I have a medium-sized business with 25-plus staff and the majority of those have nothing to do, so we have sent them home.”
Hardwicke said the workers were compensated.
“So, the business has been bearing the cost of it because we have to preserve our capacity to reopen once we get the green light.”
He said maintaining staff has been one of his priorities.
“As in March (during the first lockdown), we are doing what we can to comply with the government requirement, which is to not lay people off so that it inconveniences them financially, because at the end of the day, our staff are our business and that is our quickest route back to operational success by preserving our staff and their capacity to rejoin us as soon as the opportunity arises.”
Hardwicke said food establishments in Tobago are struggling to cope with the measures.
“It is tough but we understand the reason behind it. Once again, like in March, it came at a time when usually restaurants and tourism-related businesses are enjoying a sort of peak period that allows them to put some petrol in the tank, as it were, to get them through the leaner times.
“We have been shut off from that but it is something that we need to get through. There is no other way but to find a way to survive it, to be ready to open at the other end.”
Hardwicke said dine-in restaurants have done everything the Government asked by way of protocols to curb the spread of the virus.
“We are well-placed to reopen once the green light is given. I don’t see there was a problem with that type of establishment causing large crowds and adding to the problem.
“By and large they were very compliant with the requirements that the Government set out with the CMO’s (Dr Roshan Parasram) advice. And I am sure once this period is over, we will all be very grateful to get back to work.”