Almost four months after Government announced a special $200 million Tourism Fund Facility, hospitality businesses are yet to access the lifeline, the head of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association said Thursday.
In an update during a virtual media conference, BHTA chief executive Senator Rudy Grant said he was eager to see hoteliers access the fund so they could emerge from months of stagnation.
Senator Grant said the BHTA met with the new Minister of Tourism Senator Lisa Cummins and Government’s economic advisor Professor Avinash Persaud on the issue. They were scheduled to meet with officials from the finance and tourism ministries for further talks, he added.
Senator Grant said he was hoping to get a full update on the status of the funds next week, insisting that it was critical for tourism operators to have access to financing, amid the industry’s worst-ever crisis.
But when asked to pinpoint the hold-up in accessing the fund, Senator Grant would not give details but hinted that securing the backing could be the challenge.
He told journalists: “Based on the discussions that have been undertaken with Professor Avinash Persaud, I think (Government) would have had discussions directly with the commercial banks and discussions with the Inter-American Development Bank as well, and I think based on what he would have communicated, that in terms of the provision of the funds, the discussions did not go in the manner that he would have originally anticipated.”
The $200 million concessionary loan facility, established as part of an overall $2 billion economic stimulus plan, also includes a tax deferral for tourism for the rest of 2020 to 2021.
Backed by local commercial banks, the fund was to be established with assistance from IDB Invest, the private sector arm of the IDB. It is to be a loan facility providing urgent working capital, investment loan and where possible, blended finance for the upgrade of hotels and tourism-related businesses.
The BHTA chief said: “We did welcome the communication by the Prime Minister that the fund would be available and at a time when we are trying to focus on the protection of jobs and the protection of businesses, the $200 million loan fund would assist greatly.
“The reality is that we do want our members to be able to access that $200 million tourism loan facility quickly. As I said before there is no revenue [and] that facility provides working capital. To date, we have not been able to have access to that.
“It is really a critical matter that we would want to have the availability of the funds as soon as possible.”
Senator Grant said it was also important that the small hotels have access to the $20 million capital that was promised to be injected into the Small Hotel Investment Fund “so that the small hotels are able to utilise the funds to assist not only with respect to refurbishment but also the continuity of their businesses”.
As part of the stimulus package announced at the end of April, Prime Minister Mia Mottley had indicated that Government would refinance the Small Hotel Fund with $20 million to allow small hotels to borrow “and blend with other funds” and refurbish their properties during the downtime.
The hotels would be required to pay an interest rate of 3.5 per cent instead of the regular five per cent.
Just last month, then Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds told members of the Intimate Hotels of Barbados that it was up to hoteliers to come forward and access the funding. [email protected]