Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, says tourism-dependent countries, such as Jamaica, must put strategic plans in place to prepare workers for a reopening of the industry, in the shortest possible time.
Mr. Bartlett said it is against this background that the most urgent priority is to secure the health and livelihoods of tourism workers and prepare the sector for “an inevitable new normal…a non-traditional way of doing things”.
“Our economies need to create thousands of jobs for furloughed tourism sector workers. They need them quickly. However, unlike the European Union, the United Kingdom or the United States, governments in the Caribbean cannot afford to offer wage subsidy furlough schemes,” the Minister told JIS News.
“In Jamaica, our approach has had several facets, including providing economic stimulus, helping businesses to access benefits, partnering with financial institutions to relax loan arrangements and improve access to credit, identifying alternative supply chains and promoting digital marketing and human resource development,” he added.
Mr. Bartlett noted that despite the financial constraints, the Government has made available $2 billion in grant assistance for tourism and small businesses impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
“We have rolled out our Business Employee Support and Transfer of Cash (BEST Cash) initiative to provide temporary cash transfers to registered businesses operating in the hotel, tours and attraction companies,” the Minister said.
He pointed out that all small businesses with sales of $50 million or less that filed taxes in the 2019/2020 financial year and also filed payroll returns indicating they have employees, will each be eligible for a one-time COVID-19 Small Business grant of $100,000.
“The Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), along with the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), will spearhead the process of collecting data from our subsector suppliers who will need to access these benefits,” he said.
Mr. Bartlett noted that since March, there has been very little or no tourism activity in most Caribbean countries, as the pandemic forced most countries to completely close borders for both passenger air travel and cruise ships.
Most hotels, he further pointed out, have received no guests since March and their workers have been sent home indefinitely.
“Most destinations have been forced to revise the original end of year revenue projections for 2020, based on the high rate of flight and advance booking cancellations. Over the next six months, it is quite possible that tourism in the region could decline by between 50 per cent and 100 per cent,” he argued.
“Standard and Poor;s expects that tourism in the Caribbean will probably decline by 60 to70 per cent from April to December, compared with last year. The rating agency has already downgraded The Bahamas and Belize this month further to junk status, while lowering the credit outlooks in Aruba, Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica to negative,” the Minister said.
Mr. Bartlett pointed out that the most immediate impact of the fallout is on employment, adding that the tourism sector in Jamaica directly employs 160,000 persons.
He said that with the closure of most hotels and accommodations, an estimated 120,000 workers have been retrenched, with only 40,000 workers retained, some of whom are now earning dramatically reduced incomes.
“Unfortunately, tourism-dependent economies like ours throughout the Caribbean region have limited social safety nets. This means that our people, economy, and future are far more likely to be wrecked by COVID-19 than nations with more diversified economies. Today, airports and hotels here are shuttered, unemployment throughout the region is soaring, and nobody knows when these tourism sector jobs may come back,” the Minister said.