Accommodation providers in Buccoo have described the COVID-19 pandemic as “devastating,” noting it has hit the sector when they were seeing a “glimmer of hope” in the island’s tourism industry.
Some owners are now trying to get creative and prepare for post-COVID-19 but others feel Tobago should have been handled separately from Trinidad.
The owner and operator of Buccoo Bliss Guest House Kaylon Campbell said just like the rest of the island, his business has come to a grinding halt.
“We were fully booked for Easter and most of my clientele comes from Trinidad. When the festival (Goat and Crab Race Festival) was cancelled, naturally persons started requesting refunds. Luckily, in most cases we were able to convince them to defer their booking to a later date.”
He commended the government’s $50 million hotel grant and loan guarantee programme but noted that little is being heard about them.
“So far, we are only hearing about assistance for persons who would have lost jobs and need social assistance. While I agree those persons take priority, we haven’t heard anything else about the programmes.”
Campbell said the plan also does not cater to newer tourism facilities on the island.
“My establishment was built a few years ago and I also did even more recent upgrades in January, so how does the plan cater for me?” he asked.
Cecil Pereira, the owner and operator of Miller’s Guest House, said he too was drastically hit as his establishment also includes a restaurant. He said the government’s stimulus packages should have been handled differently.
“The dynamics of the pandemic should have been handled separately for Trinidad and Tobago, especially taking into consideration that Tobago relies so heavily on tourism.”
Pereira is also concerned about the island’s tourism sector’s ability to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Tobago’s tourism has been struggling for some time and even after restrictions are lifted there will be some time before confidence is restored and persons feel comfortable to travel again.”
He said he would like to see the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) use this opportunity to give serious consideration to economic diversification. He said, for example, that the Cove Eco-Industrial Estate and Business Park is underutilised.
“There is a great demand for PPE, now hazmat suits. Simple things like masks can be made and distributed, why hasn’t anyone given consideration to doing this?”
He said the THA should look at long-term sustainable solutions to the island’s economic challenges.
The Government and Tobago House of Assembly (THA) have taken steps to reduce the coronavirus impact on small businesses.
The stimulus package includes paying $1,500 to workers and self-employed persons who suffered a loss in their earnings.
The government will also top up the THA Enterprise Development Facility by $5 million and defer the rent of all THA business tenants.