The Adrian Loveridge Column – Hotel Veteran Pauses to Reflect

As I enter my 53rd Year in tourism it’s perhaps time to reflect on some of the very many experiences and opportunities this incredible industry has brought to me.

Having spent a prolonged period as a child in hospital being treated for what, at that time, was a disease with a 50% mortality survival rate, the seemingly endless days were abridged with second hand copies of National Geographic magazines. Even in the late nineteen fifties the journals photography was outstanding and it was those images which drove my relentless interest in travel.

My first ‘voyage’ of discovery was at the age of 16 years hitch-hiking from England to Istanbul in Turkey.

I vividly recall seeing Paris for the first time and trying to comprehend how a city, so close to London, could be so strikingly different.  Paris would later become the most popular destination for our tour operation company and I would re-visit literally hundreds of times, without for a single second, losing any of its magical appeal.

Soon after, I travelled to Canada and whilst maintaining two jobs, one at McDonalds and another as a waiter at the Lock, Stock and Barrel, it allowed me to volunteer my services to a local travel agency to acquire the necessary skills to make a living within the industry.

Whilst still in the travel industry I replied to an advertisement in the British Sunday Times placed by a Swiss based company, Globus Gateway.  They invited me to an interview which took place in a nondescript third floor office in Oxford street in Londons West end.  At the time I felt the interview went badly for me and I returned to Canada. Days later an invitation arrived to join a training tour taking in as many European countries as there is in a week.

Looking back it is now easy to understand that this training tour was for me, and the other 20 plus hopefuls, an endurance test for physical and mental ability.

Once again, so doubtful that I had secured the job as a  Tour Director I returned to Winnipeg.  To my absolute astonishment about a week later a telex  arrived in my office on Portage Avenue instructing me to collect all relevant documentation to guide T628. The ‘T’ indicated the type of European tour and the ‘628’ the date it started – 28th June.

Fortunately, the 36 Americans booked on T628 arrived at Heathrow and spent the first two nights in London, a city that I had an intimate knowledge of.   But, that was just the beginning.  T628 turned out to be the longest tour operated by the company – 47 days duration, taking in 16 sovereign countries, 4 of which I had never visited before!  3 days later later I and the group flew to Madrid to begin the Continental European portion.   In broken Spanish I introduced myself to the main motor coach driver and sheepishly asked Manuel if he knew Europe well.  His response was that he lived in Madrid and occasionally visited Barcelona.  He had never been outside of Spain whilst driving a coach….

 

The adventure began and despite all the associated challenges, I managed to complete the tour almost seven weeks later.

I would always be grateful to Globus for giving me an incredible opportunity and if there is any recognisable moral to this weeks column it is the travel and tourism industry provides an unparalleled platform to advance a career anywhere in the world.

The Adrian Loveridge Column – Cashback Can Benefit the Tourism Product

Adrian Loveridge

The recent decision of one of our banks to increase the cashback percentage on the purchase of groceries and petroleum products to 4 percent for those selecting to pay by a certain branded credit card raises several opportunities.

It is not always easy for the layman to understand the logic of marketing strategies of some of our financial institutions. A classic case in point was another bank charging a monthly service fee of $12 per month for a no-risk debit card, but soon after introducing a no-cost joining or annual fee credit card with a cashback benefit.

Perhaps one day, someone within these organisations could explain the rationale to us lesser mortals.

Would applying a similar cashback feature to our tourism product, including restaurants, activities, attractions, hotels and other lodging options, stimulate local usage especially during non-peak periods?

Of course conditions could be easily applied, such as only offering the cashback for early dining bookings where an otherwise empty table could be filled at 6. 30pm to qualify for the rebate, then filled again at 8. 30 pm, but would not receive the same incentive.

Likewise for the activities and attractions!

There must be some individual historical information of times where increased numbers would be desirable.

Whether this, could all be put together most efficaciously through existing initiatives like re-DISCOVER and the Staycation programme, or a new structure created under the national trade association (BHTA), is open to discussion.

Not for a second am I advocating the increased irresponsible use of credit cards, as many, including ourselves, simply utilize them as a simple and inexpensive payment method which allows monitored spending and monthly settlement. Online banking has made this type of transactions even easier in recent times.

In this case, we are not encouraging anyone to use the cards for overseas expenditure, as all payments would be made in Barbados dollars involving little or no foreign exchange loss, so it is particularly appealing to the current administration which would also greatly benefit from additional VAT collection.

While largely intended as a local targeted marketing concept, visiting friends and relatives could also take advantage of the savings. Banks can effortlessly monitor any increase in card revenue generation as a result and could limit the promotion in duration. This would allow careful evaluation of the cost-effectiveness, during the pilot project timeline.

It must be clear by now that our banks are risk-averse to investment and lending for new and existing tourism projects. Often demanding a high level of collateral required to borrow which is out of proportion to the funds required.

So could this concept be another way to help increase the viability of our tourism partners without the banks feeling they are being placed at risk?

The Adrian Loveridge Column – Travel Agents Worth Their Weight in Gold

Adrian Loveridge

During my time in Canada, starting back in the late nineteen sixties, I worked as a travel agent in Winnipeg. It was an amazing learning experience and one opportunity that I will always be truly grateful for. I threw my all into attempting to understand all the myriad of complex options and choices, knowing that largely through your own efforts that you were often able to put together, what for many clients, was the trip of a lifetime. While frequently humbling it was also one of the most personally rewarding periods of my life in travel. Even back then, almost five decades ago, the skeptics were predicting the death of the travel agent. I did not believe it then and certainly have not changed my mind now.

While on a Barbados promotion trip in Portland – Maine, many years later, I heard of the sudden death of a long-time friend, who actually lived in Winnipeg. I immediately contacted the airline who I was flying with and they were particularly unhelpful stating that nothing could be done to change the ticket and I would be forced to purchase another at full fare. I then walked into a local travel agent, who was incredibly considerate and managed to secure a bereavement fare at a substantial saving. This was at a time when travel agents were introducing a ‘service fee’ to partially offset reduced rates of commission. She apologised profusely for having to charge this ‘fee’, which I recall was about US$25, but of course, I was more than happy to have this option.

I remain convinced, that good travel agents are worth their weight in gold and will survive whatever happens in the constantly changing dynamics of the industry.

When after 30 years of selling through the British travel trade, one of our main visitor suppliers Virgin Holidays, decided to become a purely direct-sell operator, it did not seem to take the industry by surprise. Their rationale behind the decision was summed up by this statement ‘because it can no longer add the value and consistency of service it wants, if it doesn’t own the customer’, that’s according to an article which appears in the 16th October 2015 edition of Travel Weekly online.

Virgin Holidays managing director at that time added ‘Agent sales represented about 10 per cent of Virgin Holidays’ business last year (2014) and its less than 10 per cent this year’.

From at least a financial point of view, their decision seems to have been vindicated, with a growth in profits of more than 75 per cent in first year (2016) as a direct sale only holiday operator, recording a GB Pounds 19.1 million profit, due to higher passenger volumes and margins. Departures increased 4.9 per cent and 341,000 Virgin Holiday experiences were arranged for customers in more than 45 destinations.

To help understand this from a Barbados perspective, I contacted one of our largest hotel groups and they have actually witnessed a decline in Virgin Holiday bookings, but this has been made up by another airline linked tour operator. It would be interesting to analyse across our accommodation options what has been the net gain or loss in visitor arrival numbers to the destination since Virgin Holidays opted for direct sell.

The Adrian Loveridge Column – Working Harder to Encourage Greater Tourist Interaction in the Bridgetown Area

Adrian Loveridge

Adrian Loveridge, Hotelier

Frankly I have always felt that it is essential for so many reasons to involve all sectors of the economy, large and small, in the business of tourism. In an interesting experiment the Tourism Foundation, 100 market traders at the Montego Bay Harbour Street Craft Market, have received business training and guidance on what types of products visitors are looking for__how to approach tourists effectively, how to improve sales techniques plus tips on running a profitable business. At the same time tour operators are being asked to encourage customers to visit the market in order to boost income for local traders.

The Tourism Foundation was founded in 2003 as a UK registered independent charity. According to its website, its mission statement and objectives are to support destination stakeholders – including tour operators from the relevant source markets, destination stakeholders, local tourism businesses and local communities – to develop and deliver a programme of activities that optimizes the overall benefits of tourism.

The initiative is part of a wider plan by the Travel Foundation to improve the impacts of tourism in the area and it will be rolled out to other tourism resorts across Jamaica in the future. Training is being carried out by a local association, the Tourism Product Development Company Ltd (TPDCo).

In the words of the Travel Foundation’s Head of Sustainable Practice, Julie Middleton, ‘we’re continuing to work with market traders, the Parish Council, TPDCo and others to ensure that the market offers a vibrant and enjoyable experience for tourists and to support local traders’. Adding ‘we also need to ensure that tourists know about the craft market and what it has to offer, so we are asking tour operators to include it in their excursions and to promote it’. Also part of the initiative has been to develop a walking map of Montego Bay and an insider guide to the area, highlighting local attractions.

Could this be a model to redress the concerns and frequently aired woes of our own Pelican Village Craft Centre?

Perhaps spearheaded by the dynamic Chief Executive Officer of the recently formed Barbados Tourism Product Authority!

It appears that we have all the existing parts and expertise and maybe it’s just the co-ordination that is needed.

While the larger companies continue to down size, right size or consolidate, it must be obvious, even to the less enlightened, that it will be our smaller businesses and enterprises who will significantly soak up unemployment and create new financial opportunities.

Increased visitor interaction with our traders and craft people is also a great way to build our destination awareness and helps to spread the economic benefits generated by tourism more equally throughout society.

My own thoughts would be to develop a passport like map, which embraces Bridgetown offering an incentive, like a 10 per cent discount on presentation with participating partners, which could then be easily monitored for cost-effectiveness and the implementation expenses fairly shared across the ultimate beneficiaries. The ‘document’ could either be accessed online or distributed through strategic locations like the Barbados Tourism office located in the port.

The Adrian Loveridge Column – Well Done Sue Springer

Ms. Sue Springer, Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association Barbados

Sue Springer, Outgoing CEO,Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association

As Sue Springer prepares to demit her post as Chief Executive Officer at the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, I would like to dedicate this weeks’ column to her amazing contribution to tourism over several decades and around 15 years in her current position.

Frankly, I have marvelled at her incredible ability to juggle with egos the size of elephants as well as the inevitable political interference.

Few can question the dedication, patience, personal and family sacrifice, together with the hours she has committed to our main industry trade body while trying to balance the myriad of vested and diverse interests within its membership.

From my own personal perspective, I will always be eternally grateful for the support and encouragement she has given us over many years with several initiatives we have driven, including the re-DISCOVER the Caribbean Show and current re-DISCOVER Barbados restaurant promotion with its re-DISCOVER REWARDS incentive offshoot.

Perhaps many out there are not aware of her background and broad depth of experience within the industry, I will use the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association profile on Sue, to detail her long career.

Veteran hotelier of some thirty years, member of the Hotel Catering Institute and Management Association (HCIMA), Mrs. Springer holds a Master of Science in Tourism and Hospitality Management. She commenced her career in London, England, at the Waldorf Hotel and then worked in Bahrain and Guyana. She moved to Barbados to take up the position of Training manager at Sandy Lane Hotel, and later managed Discovery Bay, Colony Club and Tamarind Cove Hotels, she then became Operations Manager at Almond Beach Village. Sue also opened and managed Turtle Beach Resort. She lectured at Guildford and Plymouth College of Technology in England, in various disciplines including front office, housekeeping, sales and marketing and also lectured in Barbados at the Barbados Community College Hospitality Institute. She sits on several statutory bodies and is a board member of Tourism Development Corporation (TDC) and Barbados Conference Services Ltd (BCSL) and the newly formed Barbados Tourism Product Authority (BTPA). In addition, she was a member of the Technical Vocational Education & Training Council (TVET) and hospital lead body for National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ’s). Sue is past President of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association and is currently Chief Executive Officer of the Association, a position she has held for the past 14 years. She was also the President of the Caribbean Society of Hotel Association Executives (CSHAE) for four years.

It is an incredibly hard act to follow, but I sincerely wish the new Chief Executive Officer, former Senator Rudy Grant, all the very best in his new position. We hope that the entire industry will support his efforts and put any hints about partisan politics aside in the interests of all.

To finish with an enormous thank you to Sue, for her unswerving impartial dedication to the entire industry. All of us in tourism owe you a massive debt of gratitude and wish you every possible success in the next chapter of your life.

The Adrian Loveridge Column – What if Brexit?

BrexitAs we rapidly approach the 23rd June, when Britons will vote in a referendum on whether to stay within the European Union or not, I really wonder if our tourism sector has thought through the potential implications for Barbados.

Almost all the industry pundits agree that if they do it will impact negatively in several ways. Increased airfares, less financial protection on package holidays, the loss of delay and cancellation compensation under an existing structured arrangement and the huge unknown of the effect it may have on the value of Sterling.

Any or all of the above will certainly affect us. We are already perceived as a high cost destination so will it drive potential visitors to areas where they think they can obtain better value-for-money?

Under rule EU261 currently agreed levels of compensation for delays and cancellations are written into law for all airlines registered and operating out of the European Union (EU). If Britain withdraws from the EU what happens to airlines like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways or its new Caribbean subsidiary, Thomas Cook and Thomson? Will they be then obligated to offer similar levels of recompense?

How would it effect the current Open Skies arrangements? Almost certainly new air services agreements would have to be negotiated, competition could be reduced and fares may rise again.

Sterling when compared with the United States Dollar has already been under severe stress recently, any further effective devaluation will put further pressure on the tour operators to re-negotiate lower contract hotel rates and perhaps tempt normally returning individual visitors to other destinations which are not so pricey.

Investment bankers, Goldman Sachs has predicted ‘that Sterling slide could dip to as low as $1.15 against the Dollar’.

If this prediction is even remotely feasible, can you imagine the consequences it would have on our critical tourism industry?

In the event of a Brexit it is likely that EU-originating regulations that benefit and protect travelling consumers would need to be replaced with parallel UK-originating regulations to ensure that consumer confidence is maintained.

One compensating component may be that further additional pressure will be brought across the whole industry to eliminate or at least dramatically reduce the world’s highest departure taxes, the advanced passenger duty.

Changing the subject and a lesson learnt is my ongoing battle with one of Britain’s low cost carriers, EasyJet. It transpires that of all the world’s airlines, EasyJet has the second worst record of settling compensation claims according to a recent survey by AirHelp.

With three members of my family on one flight, EZY2019, the airline is now blaming the weather and citing ‘extraordinary’ conditions. Never mind that on the day in question Storm Katie had no significant detrimental effect on Luton Airport. I have used the incredible website database, FlightAware, to track the aircraft that should have operated our cancelled flight and it would appear to have been EZY2134 which was delayed by five hours at Paphos and arrived finally in Luton at 11.03 pm. This would confirm what one of the Easyjet staff members said originally, that the crew had exceeded their hours.

Tenacity is in my blood and I am not ashamed of that.

Local Businesses Must Up Their Game!

From a tourism perspective and many other sectors, it is almost impossible to comprehend how so many businesses seem to think they can trade to an optimal degree without maintaining a fully functioning and up-to-date website and/or Facebook page. Also surprising is the number of local companies who take to the air via radio or in print with ‘ads’ promoting new products, but have simply not thought through any potential consumer response, especially in terms of disseminating details like price, sizes, varieties and availability. Do they realistically think that potential buyers are going waste time trying to extract the details in a protracted phone call and that’s assuming that the person on the other end actually knows anything about the item(s). Of course there are notable exceptions, but certainly in my experience emails are not answered or days go by without a timely response.

In case some have not noticed our world has become increasingly more competitive and many ‘buyers’ simply will not wait for prolonged periods, when often they have responsive alternatives a simple click away. What also continues to amaze me is that if I had a particular commodity, I would want everybody that may have even a vague interest in that product to know and that it was currently in stock and obviously the cost.

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Success is About Making Others Feel Special

While this column has never been about individuals, I celebrated a milestone birthday a couple of weeks ago and could not help but spend a little time reflecting on the fifty years that I have spent mainly in the tourism industry. Some people evaluate success or what the definition of it differently and there is nothing wrong with that.

My introduction to the world of commerce at a very early age was driven not so much by any desire to become fabulously wealthy with all the associated trappings, but more by the basic need to fend financially for myself without the benefit of sustained further education as a result of a prolonged illness. Looking back, I learnt very quickly and by the age of 21, I had already become the majority shareholder and managing director of four companies which employed scores of people. This is not a boast, but a simple fact.

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Butch Stewart: Public Relations and Truth

Adrian Loveridge - Hotelier

Adrian Loveridge – Hotelier

While it was very tempting to write about any subject this week other than the Butcherisation I received at the recent Barbados Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon, that would have been the easy way out and certainly not in my character. First for the record, I had no intention of offending anyone. In fact I made it abundantly clear in my opening remarks that many of us greatly admire Mr. Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart and the hotel empire he has spearheaded. I am not so remotely naive to believe that any one person can achieve this alone and a great part of the success is attracting the right people around you. This equally applies whether it is a small or large business. Perhaps what surprises me more than anything is that a person who has received everything he has asked for within weeks and possibly more than we are aware of is so unwilling to respond to legitimate concerns. Especially, while so many who actually live on Barbados have toiled to build the destination’s tourism industry over several decades while being consistently denied similar extraordinary concessions.

Equally baffling were the number of persons present at the event who over the last months had, albeit in the shadows of anonymity, literally moaned about their inability to solicit business from Sandals Barbados but were now cheering their new found ‘super hero’. There is the temptation to name and shame these persons but they know who they are.

Are we really such a Nation of hypocrites?

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9 – Point Tourism Plan

Adrian Loveridge - Hotelier

Adrian Loveridge – Hotelier

Even though it has not become widespread public knowledge, September 2013 became the 18th consecutive month of long stay visitor decline and recorded the lowest stay-over arrivals of any month in the last 11 years. As someone who has invested their life savings and 25 years in the Barbados tourism industry, it give me no pleasure to state this unpleasant fact but someone has to say it. If only in the interests of survival.

The time for remedial action has long since passed. Once again it is now a case of damage limitation and focusing on what the private sector can do for itself to avoid annihilation of the industry as we know it. This may at first appear dramatic but you only have to look around at other businesses on the island to understand that a sector who has been financially drained for a year and a half cannot be immune from the same challenges others are facing.

Not that our policymakers are listening, but I am going to make a few suggestions:

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What Are We Doing Wrong in Tourism?

Adrian Loveridge - Owner of Peach & Quiet Hotel

Adrian Loveridge – Owner of Peach & Quiet Hotel

The bad news is that long stay visitor arrivals have declined in each and every single month over the last consecutive fourteen months. The good news is that in May, the fall was the lowest in that entire period with just 29 less arrivals than the corresponding month last year.

With the end of the only national marketing initiative, Barbados Island Inclusive, we are back again in this massive vacuum of marketing uncertainty. The non-tour operator dependent hotels will now be scrabbling around to see what, if any, additional funds they can spend on promoting their properties.

Up until the end of May, we were already 16,151 long stay visitors down, when compared with the same period in 2012, and that year was down by 31,421 over 2011. Some tourism policymakers are predicting that we (Barbados) will end the year ‘flat’ and hopefully that will be proven right. But sadly, the odds are overwhelming against it. Arrivals would have to average almost 50,000 people each month for the rest of 2013. Especially when you think we have not reached above this target in four out of five months this year, and those included our peak winter months.

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Peach and Quiet:Small Businesses Should Have the Right to Offset

The following is a communication which was sent to the VAT Office by Hotelier and social commentator Adrian Loveridge.

Adrian Loveridge - Owner of Peach & Quiet Hotel

Adrian Loveridge – Owner of Peach & Quiet Hotel

On or before the 15 March 2013, we will be expected to pay over to Government the amount of $37,526.60 in Corporation taxes due for the last financial year [2012]. If we do not pay on time, then there will be an immediate fine of 5% of the amount due, which equates to $1,876.33 plus interest accrued of 1% per month or 18% annually, which is 3 times the latest rate of Government borrowings to sustain a bloated public service and pay for dismally failed projects like GEMS (Hotels and Resorts Limited) and the chartering of Carnival Destiny for CWC2007.

As a small business that has operated on Barbados for twenty five years and has honoured all statutory obligations, it is a significant amount of money. Yet the same Government has owed us outstanding VAT refunds of nearly $30,000 for up to two years. Of course they have not paid us any late penalty charges or interest.

Before going public, I have written personally to the Ministers of the various Government bodies involved, but up until today not received any form of response.  It appears they feel they have no obligation to businesses that are successful, sustainable (through there own efforts) and those who have demonstrated viability over decades of operation. Yet week after week, it is almost impossible not to read or listen to endless rhetoric about the importance that small businesses will play in the recovery of our economy.

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The Tourism Business, A Labour of Love for Adrian – Part II

Adrian Loveridge - Owner of Peach & Quiet Hotel

Adrian Loveridge – Owner of Peach & Quiet Hotel

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my introduction and what became almost a addiction to the tourism industry, and in this column I would like to continue with part two. After three years on the road with Globus Gatway, I felt that I had the confidence and knowledge to start my own tour operation. Of course it’s a lot more difficult than it initially sounds. Start small and grow was the plan. Using my savings, I purchased a Ford 12-seater minibus and began by driving and guiding my own long weekend tours to Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels and Brugge based from a small office in Britain’s most easterly inhabited island, called Mersea.

Among our first customers, was my now wife, who later joined the fledgling business and played a vital role in its growth. We soon outgrew the minibus and started chartering other firm’s coaches. We knew there was a market for travellers who wanted a high standard of transport from a convenient departure point, to stay in nice hotels, but at an affordable cost. It went far beyond price though, we wanted to get it right, without compromise.

Our groups stayed in beautiful hotels which included the Inter Continental and Schweitzerhof in Berlin, Admiral Copenhagen, Pultizer Amsterdam, Cayre, de Castiglione and Concorde Lafayette Paris, Royal Windsor, Brussels and Crowne Plaza Hamburg. Hotels that normally would charge room rates far above our meagre budget. But, when contracting accommodation, I soon learnt the first question you asked, was when do you want us? This was the secret.

Related Link: The Tourism Business, A Labour of Love for Adrian

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The Tourism Business, A Labour of Love for Adrian

Adrian Loveridge - Owner of Peach & Quiet Hotel

Adrian Loveridge – Owner of Peach & Quiet Hotel

As we prepare to enter a brand new year, 2013 will be another benchmark one for us personally. Our small hotel celebrates its fortieth birthday and my wife and I enter our collective one hundred years in the hospitality industry.

I owe old copies of National Geographic magazine to my first interest in tourism, while spending prolonged time in hospital as a child. Even five decades ago the images were outstanding, and to me, captivating. I knew, that with my limited formal education, that I was never going to be destined for a ‘normal’ job or career. Even before leaving school I worked as a waiter in the Bath Hotel in Lynmouth, North Devon and later training as a Commis de Rang, at one of Britain’s historical hotels, the Old Ship in Brighton which opened it’s door in 1559. Not for a moment did I think waiting on tables was a demeaning task and would genuinely take great pleasure in ensuring diners had the very best possible service and experience. Surely that’s what we all want.

Most of the monies earned were spent travelling. My first big trip was hitch hiking to Istanbul, along the way stopping in many cities, towns and villages. I vividly remember visiting Paris for the first time and marvelling how beautiful it was and so different to London. Yet geographically, so close.

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Inducing Performance From A Tired Tourism Plant

Adrian Loveridge – Hotel Owner

If any single statement made so far this year, should have sent a wake-up call to our tourism policymakers, it perhaps was the one made recently by the President of the Barbados Bankers Association (BBA), Horace Cobham at a luncheon meeting of the Chamber of Commerce.

‘That of all the commercial bank loans that were more than three months behind (non-performing), 43 per cent were from hotel and tourism clients’.

Not only is this a damning indictment of the state of our most important foreign currency earner but what compounds the seriousness of the situation, is the timing. Traditionally, most tourism enterprises make their monies in terms of revenue and profits during the four winter months. Once you get past Easter, both occupancy and average room rates plummet in most cases. Therefore, simply put, if such a large percentage are struggling to keep up with loan repayments now, imagine what it could be like by October or November.

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