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Financial troubles for Tobago hotels

Published: 
Saturday, February 11, 2017
Impact of declining visitor arrivals
A file image of tourists arriving at the Scarborough port in Tobago.

Tobago hoteliers say they are struggling to meet daily commitments to their employees and pay their bills due to declining visitor arrivals to the island.

They are appealing to Government and the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) to work out a plan to save the industry.

President of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association Chris James said half a dozen restaurants and a similar number of guest houses have closed because of financial troubles, while others have “eroded their savings.”

“It’s a daily struggle to pay bills, including basics like electricity and water,” he said.

Kelvin Parker, whose apartment rental business was recently repossessed, said the situation was further exacerbated because commercial banks “have no assistance for any one of us in this industry at this time.”

President of the Tobago Chamber of Commerce Demi John Cruickshank said for the past seven or eight years businesses in Tobago have been on the decline because of the steady decline of the tourism industry.

From a high of 80,000 visitors previously, there were only 19,000 international arrivals to the island last year.

“Of the 30 million tourists to visit the Caribbean last year, Tobago got a mere 19,000. That is less than two per cent at a time when the country needs foreign exchange,” he said.

“A number of guest houses and hotels are struggling, but bankers in Port-of-Spain only concerned about getting their instalments. But apart from the instalments, hoteliers and guest house owners have other commitments, including NIS, health surcharge, electricity and other bills.”

Cruickshank said these concerns were raised with the Bankers’ Association of T&T (BATT) some time ago and he hopes to raise them again with current president Anya Schnoor.

He also wants to meet with Minister of Finance Colm Imbert, the Tobago House of Assembly and other stakeholders “because as it is owners of these establishments now have to be labourers and jacks of all trades to keep going and we are concerned that things will get worse.”

James admitted: “It is a very negative situation in Tobago. Hotels, bed and breakfast establishments and guest houses have been plagued by a range of problems, including the lack of direct international flights to the island, not enough destination marketing, water and staffing shortages,” he said.

James said hoteliers have no idea what the deal was with the planned Sandals Resort.

“If any concessions are afforded to Sandals we would like similar benefit,” he said.

He said while it will take at least two years for the Sandals Resort to become operational “we are optimistic that their marketing and airlift will help us and the economy of Tobago.”

James added: “We have an amazing group of people that have stamina with what we have to go through on a day to day basis to keep going, but many of us getting to the end of the tether.

‘There is a severe foreign exchange problem but we have the highest retention of the tourism dollar in the region because over seventy per cent of every dollar is retained in Trinidad and Tobago.”

The increase in violent crimes on the island is not helping.

“It is very concerning and if the crime situation is not brought under control it will put a severe dent in the economy of Tobago,” Cruickshank said.

He is appealing to central Government and the THA to come together to do something about the industry.

“The former PP Government in Trinidad and the PNM-led THA were not talking. Now you seeing the repercussions of all the policy wars and the businesses are suffering,” he said.

THA minority leader Watson Duke said several owners of establishments in Tobago have complained to him they raised their concerns with the Secretary of Tourism and the Minister of Tourism but nothing was done.