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Tourists maintain a safe distance from each other at Store Bay, Tobago, last Friday.

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected Tobago’s tourism sector, with losses going into the millions, Tobago Tourism Agency CEO Louis Lewis said yesterday.

Speaking at a news conference to update the island on the Tobago House of Assembly’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lewis said his agency has started to compile data on the economic impact the presence of the virus has had and will have on the island. He said at the start of 2020, Tobago’s tourism arrivals saw an increase but due to the current situation the numbers have significantly decreased

“Some of the numbers are actually staggering when we look at it, we experienced a 21 per cent increase in arrivals in January and then came the virus, which started to impact on us in February and we actually saw an 18 per cent decline and if you assess the difference between an 18 per cent decline and a 20 per cent increase it’s a significant change,” Lewis said.

“It started to affect people’s perception of safety for taking vacations and a lot of our business is actually long haul and it started to impact on us, but in March our numbers are disastrously low as you would expect. So when you quantify those metrics to see what we would have lost in the first quarter, which would have been from January to March, we estimate our island visitor expenditure, we would have lost $33 million of business and that is TT dollars coming into Tobago.”

Lewis said the situation is not likely to improve for the April to June quarter and greater losses are projected

“We are projecting a loss of about $54 million and that is first-round expenditure from what we would have gained from visitors being in Tobago, and it gives you a perspective on the economic implications of what we are experiencing it is a very, very difficult time.

“With regards to the cruise lines, we blocked the reception of vessels and that caused a $1.5 million loss of potential revenue, so you add all of those things together between the middle of February and going to the end of June, we would have lost about 87 to 88 million dollars worth of business.”

He said employment would also be affected, with approximately 6,000 people being displaced. However, he said efforts would be placed on job security and business continuity

“We are seeing a displacement of about 4,500 persons within the accommodation component in the tourism sector and another 1,500 people and in some cases, one person serves more than one establishment … Taking that into total, it’s about 6,000 people who have now moved from full employment to being displaced as a result of constriction. So it’s a very difficult one and we have to find ways in which we protect the employment, we move towards job security and ensure there is business continuity.”

Lewis said the Tobago Tourism Agency is working in collaboration with the Division of Finance and the Office of the Chief Secretary so they can prepare for when the COVID-19 pandemic is over.