Adrian Loveridge Column – We Need a New ‘Game’ to SUPPORT Tourism
In many ways it feels like a reoccurring dream of perhaps better described as a nightmare – taking me back almost 20 years – to when I can graphically recall sitting in the palatial meeting room of our esteemed Sandy Lane Hotel. Surrounded by Ministers of Government, hotel managers, heads of regional organisations and various other ‘big-ups’ in tourism, who all collectively were attempting to mitigate the inevitable consequences of 11th September 2001 (911).
Nearly two decades later as a largely airlift dependent destination – with the added challenge this time presented by many cruise operators decision to ‘dock’ their ships and suspend sailings – it is again time to intensely focus on what we can do to mitigate the current situation. Clearly, we retain a resident population who are now faced with limited travel options, so there should be at least some opportunities to stimulate domestic tourism.
‘Our’ banks can play a critical role in this objective, by offering ‘local’ incentives.
As an example, one of them recently extended an enhanced cash-back bonus when paying by a specified credit or debit card at on-island restaurants. It was encouraging to read from the Caribbean Association of Banks, that it will ‘no longer be business as usual for the foreseeable future’. Let us hope that this proves to be more than an impromptu mission statement.
There will also be increased pressure on Government to level the playing field for our stand- alone eating establishments, by allowing them the same duty free concessions as hotels, if they have any realistic chance of remaining open and employing existing levels of staff.
St. Lucia has just announced the closure of ‘three major hotels’ among them, The Body Holiday and Rendezvous Resort, until 1st June as reported in TravelPulse.
And perhaps some of our own properties, including those sold over the last few months, will use this doubtful period to re-brand and upgrade.
What will the giants like Sandals do? They have been used to operating close to capacity, if all reports are to be believed*. With substantially reduced airlift, how are they planning to remain open and staffed? Unilateral and unique concessions have already been extended to them, so there can be little further support that can be reasonably expected from the taxpayer.
The smaller accommodation providers traditionally make any anticipated profits during the short winter peak season, if they are lucky, up to and including whenever Easter falls. From many years first-hand experience, that ‘surplus’ carries them through eight long summer months, until hopefully occupancy from December climbs and they return to viability.
Much has been made of the reduction in corporation tax, but sadly unless each business is profitable and generates that surplus at this stage it is purely academic.
Meanwhile, the majority of businesses have been forced to absorb unbudgeted staggering increases in land taxes, water, garbage disposal and a number of other costs, whilst a bevy of additional taxes and levies extracted from our visitors has driven down average spending and possibly stay.
Some may still linger under the illusion that our tourism industry constantly has their hands out seeking fiscal support. Until ‘we’ find a way to reduce our national dependence on this sector, there frankly is no other game in town that will replace its contribution.
*Sandals and Beaches have since advised that they will close all properties from 30th March until 15th May.