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The Crown Point stretch.

Renuka Singh

The list of Tobago hotels set to receive portions of the Government’s $50 million bailout features businesses without a proper room count and no online presence, says the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA). In fact, the body says they have never heard of some of the businesses set to receive State money.

In a media release, the THTA questioned whom the additional and unknown businesses belonged to, adding of the list of 449 businesses many are unknown to the hotel industry.

The group also accused the Tobago Tourism Agency Limited (TTAL) of listing unregistered businesses to collect State money.

“It is particularly puzzling to us how TTAL and the THA came up with a combined figure of 449 small and medium-sized properties when having seen the list from TTAL, 116 listed have no room count and 154 listed have no online content, many are unknown to us. We can only assume that the THA intends to disburse funds to previously unregistered businesses/sole proprietors that have been operating outside of the legal framework,” the THTA said.

The THA and the TTAL are responsible for the disbursement of some $50 million made available by the Government to assist hotels with upgrades during the slow period associated with COVID-19 travel restrictions.

“We reject the proposed grant distribution outright and are appealing to the THA to revise their strategy immediately in order to bring some much-needed relief to this critical industry,” the body said.

“We propose that the THA abandon this method of grant distribution.”

The THTA instead asked that the grant be placed under the control of the Business Development Unit of the Division of Community Development, Enterprise Development and Labour. It said the grants and/or loans can then be made available to qualifying applicants from the accommodation sector at low interest rates for 10 years with a moratorium on repayment for two years.

The group also said the process of applying for the grants was “onerous”, which made it difficult for small and medium-sized hotels to apply.

“This could be the end for many small and medium-sized businesses, most of whom were already suffering before the pandemic hit Trinidad and Tobago,” the release said.

According to the hoteliers, over 5,000 people are working in the Tobago tourism industry, which is the largest employer after the THA.

“The large accommodation sector employs over 1,000 people, yet this sector has inexplicably been awarded the smallest proportion of the relief grant,” the group said.

“The large hotels alone pay in excess of $33 million in taxes annually. It is the large and medium-sized properties that guarantee airlift, as foreign tour operators will generally not contract with small accommodation providers.

“Neglecting the large hotels will only delay, or worse yet prevent, the revival of an already fragile industry, most of whose employees have yet to receive any salary or rent relief grants.”

The group said while they appreciate the Government honouring its commitment to aid the recovery of the accommodation sector, “we consider the proposed method to be fundamentally flawed.”

It said despite submitting recommendations for an equitable accommodation relief grant, as requested by the THA, “it appears our suggestions were completely ignored”.

“No consideration whatsoever has been given to allocating funds to accommodation providers on a per room basis,” the body said.

“TTAL, under the direction of the THA, has proposed a disbursement of TTD $22M to small properties (2-7 rooms), $24M to medium-sized properties (8-74 rooms) and $4M to large properties (75 rooms and above).

“The Tobago Tourism industry has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic. We acknowledge that it is not the Government’s responsibility or intention to fund the complete upgrade of tourism facilities to international standards. However, whatever Government funding is provided must place the tourism industry on the path to sustainability, competitiveness and increased contribution to GDP.”

The body said it had expressed its concerns and given an alternative proposal to THA Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis in the hope he could bring resolution.