The Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA) is calling for a five-year plan to take Tobago out of its economic slump.
The hotel association president, Chris James, made the statement on Wednesday, noting that TT needs a five-year plan that convinces the banks, airlines and investors that the country is serious about tourism and that there is a plan to overcome the covid19 crisis.
He noted that the cancellation of the cruise ship season, border closure and restrictions on travel between the islands have been detrimental. He said the tourism industry has been closed since March.
“Since the first lockdown and now with the reintroduction of the limitations from Trinidad, we really only had about a month where we could have reopened and even that was so shallow.
“So, it’s not been a great year, in fact, it’s been a terrible year,” he said.
He said a sound five-year plan would give hope, adding that it needs to be properly funded to restore confidence in travellers.
James said the THTA is engaged in a number of webinars hosted by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association to understand what is happening regionally and internationally. He said there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“We have to plan for that... One of our concerns is that we’ve spoken to the Bankers Association of Trinidad and Tobago. We really need the banks to help us finance the debts that we have over a longer period at a lower interest rates over the next two- to three-year period, but other islands have opened and one of our fears is that airlines are now scheduling to go to those islands.
"There is going to be reduced airlift for 2021 and if we don’t give some indication of when our borders are opening, then we are not going to get airlift. We would be a secondary call and that would be difficult for us,” he said.
He noted that he had a very long meeting on Tuesday with the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association and they’ve agreed to support a test, track and trace system so before people get on a flight to Tobago or any island in the region, they would have to be tested and then retested when they arrive.
“That is something that is happening in Europe and it seems to be working, so that would have to be funded. Mostly, that would be funded internationally by the airlines and the tour operators but there would be a local component of that here because we’ll have to obviously follow up the test here,” he said noting that this is one way to open up the gateway to tourists.
James said apart from preparing to accept international travellers, Tobago needs the domestic market.
“We need them to come back as soon as they can and as soon as its safe, we understand the reasons for the lockdown but we want those Trinidad tourists to come because we in Tobago do not have an economy that can be supported by the population.
"Private sector economy is driven by visitors, whether it is domestic Trinidad visitors or international. So that five-year plan is critical to encourage airlines to continue to fly here for next year and years to come, to get tour operators on board to show them that we’re serious about tourism and to give the investors and the staff some kind of support,” he said.
Addressing the issue of retrenchments within the hotel and tourism sector, James said there is little the association can do.
“The association has no money and most of the businesses in Tobago would be in overdraft. We have requested that the banks extend the moratorium on the loans... there is no monies to pay loans. We have had no income since March. There has still been expenses during that period; we have to maintain the properties, we have to secure the properties, there are still utility cost, so the money has run out. There are overdrafts which some banks are now converting into loans, but we need that bank moratorium extended,” he said.