Jamaica hotel association plead for stimulus to survive coronavirus wipeout

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Jamaica hotel association plead for stimulus to survive coronavirus wipeout
Omar Robinson
Omar Robinson

(JAMAICA GLEANER) – The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) has presented the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service with a proposal for a stimulus package for the tourism industry amid the global downturn in travel resulting from the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Forward bookings have virtually ground to a halt and cancellations are beginning to hit the hospitality sector hard, with the global cruise industry shut down for months and some airlines cutting flights by up to 80 per cent.

An initial forecast almost two weeks ago put the haemorrhaging from Jamaica’s tourism sector at $76 billion, but that estimate is expected to multiply with the world closing its doors one country at a time. More than four million travellers visit the island annually.

“We are going to require some assistance from Government. Our picture is that it is gloom and doom, and we need somewhat of a bailout to help us get through these rough times, similar to what happened in 2008. Again, this is on a larger scale … ,” president of the JHTA, Omar Robinson, told his members last Saturday during an emergency meeting.

Hotelier Nicola Madden-Greig, one of the authors of the proposal, said that among the requests are a reduction in general consumption tax and a moratorium on the collection of statutory deductions for both employers and employees until year end.

Highly placed sources in the organisation say that Madden-Greig spoke of approaching the banks for deferment on mortgage, loan, and credit card payments as relief to organisations and individuals.

An appeal is also being made for a waiver of import duties on sanitation products to meet heightened standards for the sterilisation of communal spaces imposed by the Ministry of Health and Wellness to reduce the prospect of contagion from the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 in Jamaica. There have been 10 confirmed cases here.

It is not clear when the first proposal was given to the Ministry of Finance, but Madden-Greig reportedly noted that the outlook for the industry has worsened significantly since. Deeper revisions are being made, The Gleaner understands.

Jamaica has placed travel restrictions on 10 countries, including the United Kingdom, from where several of the island’s 10 confirmed COVID-19 patients had flown.

Approximately 160,000 people have been infected worldwide, with Europe now being called the epicentre of the pandemic.

At the same time, Madden-Greig said that Jamaica’s tourism sector’s rebound from the ravages of the virus would be highly dependent on the actions being taken by government authorities in its major markets.

“Everything depends on how other countries manage this crisis,” she told the stakeholders, adding that it was dependent on how much control the country’s major markets, such as the United States, Canada, and the UK, could exert to drive down the infection rate of COVID-19.

Former JHTA President Wayne Cummings, who is also part of the stimulus proposal team, said that the hoteliers had not settled on a timeline for assistance, arguing that that variable was contingent on the reviving of bookings and flights.

“The thinking is for us to try as best as possible to determine how long … . In this particular instance, we are saying at least for 12 months, subject to things improving. We have been very insistent, certainly in the last couple of days, that the situation, as it stands, the picture is showing that we really have to wind down our businesses,” Cummings said.

“No arrivals means no business, and the best way to save money and to contain costs is actually sometimes to shut the business,” he added.

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