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Hoteliers beg suppliers for payment plans

Published: 
Thursday, September 7, 2017

Tobago hoteliers are making a case for compensation over the losses they have suffered as a result of the sea bridge crisis.

Appearing before the Joint Select Committee of Parliament yesterday, Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association vice president Carol Ann Birchwood-James said the past five months have been harrowing for Tobago, with “families being abandoned on the ports with no food or communication while boats were delayed or cancelled due to mechanical problems.”

She said many visitors were forced to return to their hotels after delays and cancellations and were accommodated at reduced cost. She said the sea bridge problem evolved to bigger issues, with even the air bridge affected, but conceded that the “airlift on the domestic route is inadequate and cannot be fixed without fixing the sea bridge.”

The cancellation of the Ocean Flower 2 contract sent “shock waves,” and there were many cancellations as a result, she said.

“The situation on the sea bridge is catastrophic for the tourism industry, which saw tourists clamouring for refunds. Businesses are unable to pay banks, utility bills and staff,” she said.

In light of this, she said the association was recommending that “the Government consider compensation for losses, that Government intervene with a moratorium on hotel taxes and all taxes to stay foreclosure of tourism plants by commercial banks” and that the association have a presence on the Caribbean Airlines and Port Authority boards. The association also wants input in the procurement of any future passenger vessel.

While the association is yet to quantify losses as a result of the fiasco, president Chris James clarified that the TT$25 million figure which he had given earlier was “just for the four-month period when we had cancellations.”

The situation is so bad that when people book now they first check whether they have a flight or ferry ticket because “it was becoming too expensive for refunds through the credit card system.”

What is more difficult to estimate, James said, is the loss of confidence of people who may no longer view Tobago as their choice of destination.

“We don’t have the ability to work out costs but you talking many many millions of dollars,” James said.

Bed and Breakfast Association president Kaye Trotman said one to three rooms are now occupied per month as a result of the travel crisis.

“That is a significant blow, there is no way to survive on that. It is because people cannot get to you.”

The inconsistency of the ferry service and CAL flights because of the sea bridge problems had “nullified the Stay to get Away Project launched by the Ministry of Tourism.”

Shirley Cooke, of the Restaurant Association, said “this is a man-made crisis.” Since the departure of the Galicia, she said “we looking at losses of TT$20 million and that is conservative.”

Cooke lamented that no one saw the sea bridge as an essential service.

“The Minister may not understand the full impact on the economy, when you tabulate the cost Tobago suffered tremendously economically.”

The business owners told the committee with occupancy now down to under 25-30 per cent survival is hard.

“People tried to keep staff three days a week, we have asked utility companies for payment plans and properties are in trouble,” James said.

But the ray of light on the horizon is a meeting with the Bankers Association on September 20.