The Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) will be making a case to government in the coming weeks for a reprieve from paying taxes.
Word of this has come from the BHTA’s Chairman Stephen Austin, as he pointed to the continued cancellation of hotel rooms and dramatic reduction in tours and attractions and other direct tourism services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stopping short of saying how many workers could be placed on the breadline as a result of the fall-off in business, Austin explained that businesses could be forced to close their doors if the situation did not improve.
He called on the over 400 BHTA members to provide the association with information on the impact on their business, stating that this was the best way for authorities to know what was happening and provide the necessary assistance.
He said the BHTA board would be meeting with Government to give some idea how they could work together to ensure continuity of businesses in the sector.
“We need to find a way to maybe defer payments for Value Added Tax (VAT) – some tax relief or tax delay in terms of payment of land tax without penalties and interest. Three to six months maybe? But we are going to present a comprehensive paper to Government, and we will continue to meet with the relevant authorities,” said Austin.
He said it was also the intention of the BHTA’s board to meet with the Barbados Bankers’ Association to discuss how tourism industry workers could get help over the next three to six months with paying back outstanding loans.
“If they are laid off, if they are on short hours and they may need some help with their mortgages, their loans, the reality is, how many people live pay check to pay check? So if they don’t have it they can’t pay their bills. So we will be meeting with the banking association in regard to that as well as for businesses,” said Austin.
“I know each business has its own relationship. Several of the big ones met with them already and know that they are covered. But many of the small ones that might have been missing a payment here and juggling, they are the ones that are going to be under threat, and we want to come out of this with the least casualties,” he said.
He said the BHTA was doing what it could in the meantime to help members protect their team members and guests by issuing guidelines and ramping up the health and safety practices.
“We have committed to training at least 400 staff in the industry from Thursday until Monday next week. It will be a train-the-trainer training as well so members can go back into their organisation and help train staff,” he said, adding that it was important they know how to greet guests and still make them feel welcomed while they engage in “social distancing”.
Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds encouraged the hoteliers to apply for whatever assistance they could get under the Tourism Development Act, pointing out that while they could access waivers and duty concessions there was also a development component from which they could benefit.
He explained that under the Act, tourism industry officials could get up to 150 per cent rebate on their investment in the tourism product through partnerships.
“The reality is that you will come out of the down period with a more robust and competitive posture than when you went in, in so far as health and wellness experiences are concerned,” said Symmonds.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley last week acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic would have severe consequences to the island’s bread and butter industry, noting that it was her administration’s intention to provide assistance.
Announcing that Government would be introducing a “mild stimulus” to help those who would be most affected, Mottley stated that Government would be “spending money” in order to make sure that where work was affected in the tourism sector, there will be other areas of economic activity in the country that would be triggered or expedited to keep as many people working as possible.