Much like their counterparts around the world, Tobago hoteliers are facing the full economic impact of COVID-19, said Chris James- President of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association(THTA).
He said COVID-19 hit when the island’s tourism industry was already disadvantaged, having experienced “an average occupancy rate of about 30 per cent…for years.”
He said as of March 31, 99.9 per cent of the hotels and guest houses have closed, leaving only a skeletal staff to operate the tourism plants.
“Although our members have very few guests, they still have fixed operating costs, like security and maintenance,” James said.
For those reasons, the association is asking the Government to “defer immediately all payments of both taxes and utility bills until the situation improves.”
He said this measure will help, until the Government’s $50 million grant, to upgrade hotels, kicks in. The grant is part of the Government’s economic stimulus package to jump-start the sector and get it ready for after the COVID- 19 pandemic.
Hoteliers take different measures
The state-owned Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort remains open, unlike its Trinidad counterpart- Trinidad Hilton.
Magdalena’s general manager Vinod Bajaj said staff is being paid.
“We have not laid off anyone. We are open. The staff is getting full pay. They are not all working now …some are on different kinds of leave,” Bajaj tells Guardian Media.
At the Mt Irvine Bay Resort, some staff members are working from home, and only security and maintenance staff are on the property, said the hotel’s manager Jacqueline Yorke-Westcott. She said the hotel is closed until May 1, and the management is reviewing the situation every two weeks.
She told Guardian Media 15 staff members, with short term contracts, are now on the breadline. They received salaries up to March.
She also says the company prepared the documents for retrenched staff to access Government’s food cards and income and rental grants.
“The hotel will reopen depending on what is happening with COVID-19,” Yorke-Westcott tells Guardian Media.
At the Le Grand Courland Spa Resort and Grafton Beach Resort, all 170 workers are now on the breadline, and the hotels are closed.
The resorts’ general manager Nalini Galbarangsingh said layoffs began as early as March 17, when many potential guests cancelled their bookings and requested refunds.
She said the management will communicate with staff at the end of 30 days. She is not sure when the resorts will reopen.
“I had to close Grafton initially and upgrade people to Le Grande… I have already had tour operators tell me they can’t pay me…foreign suppliers have told me they can’t pay me(too),” she added.
At the Canoe Bay Beach Resort, the situation is similar. The hotel’s owner Carol Ann Birchwood-James says they too have closed and sent staff home.
She, like the managers at Le Grand Courland and Mt Irvine Hotel, is waiting on the Government’s $50 million hotel plant upgrade grant.