Tourism Stakeholders Call For Opening, Urgently - 06/03/20 11:21 AM
Tourism borders are re-opening across the Caribbean - and there is mounting pressure in Belize to do the same.
Antigua and Barbuda, and St Lucia are set to welcome air arrivals on June fourth. Jamaica will do the same on June 15th and the Bahamas on July first.
Those countries are responding to shares economic pressures. Just like Belize they have seen massive job losses, economic stagnation, and foreign exchange shortfalls, due to the coronavirus shutdown.
And just as they are over there, in Belize, tourism interests are pounding the drums to re-open the airport, like yesterday.
Today we spoke with President of the BTIA John Burgos who says that with about half of Belize's GDP linked to international tourism, there can be no economic recovery without the recovery of the tourism industry.
John Burgos, Executive Director, BTIA
"We need an overall recovery plan. Government has not stated anything about a recovery plan being in place and we are talking specifically for the tourism sector. We always hear the conversation of having the tourism sector being the number one sector contributing around 40% of GDP. We are talking about over a billion dollars of revenue that comes in a yearly basis and that over the last 3 months being dragged down to zero, it's going to impact everybody. So if you want to fix everybody the focus should be on the tourism industry how you are going to begin to get it back. It would be very beneficial for the government to look at additional options of financing opportunities that can be made available. This is not under the normal terms with regards to what the banking institutions normally offer you. We want a specific program for tourism stakeholders that are trying to stay afloat until the economy recovers."
"We have seen how the local travelers have been assisting, but we know that majority of the businesses that is not self-sustainable for them to remain in operation. What we have been seeing is that by week, month you have more unemployment. A lot of the stakeholders, a lot of the businesses opted to try to keep their staff for a longer period of time, as long as they could, based on the funds that they have available and the reason for that is that they have a longstanding relations - employer to employee relations with these individuals. So it's like a family, you can't throw your family out to the dogs per say in this difficult times. Normally you try to stick together and see how you can work it out until you are able to recover."
"This financing opportunity we are hoping that we can get something below 5% interest rates and maybe a grace period of year before they are required to make any payment towards the loan or maybe just the interest during that period of time. This can be very accommodating to a lot of properties. You can see the conversation right now being about opening in July. A lot of people see that as the immediate solution - opening borders and let's get tourism going once again, so that the economy begins to flow once again and in any direction you look or you inquire with what people feel is the right time for us to open our borders. Its split decision. A lot of people tells you you should open, we need the economic boost, we need to welcome travelers and many of them said no, the moment you open you're going to have an increase of Covid-19 infections, which we don't want. But it's a tough decision to make. We trust that the prime minister and the national oversight committee have more information available than us and they are looking to that. Regardless, even if we open the border in July or in August or in September or we go all the way up to November which a lot of people don't want think of opening the borders, cause they are saying that's too long, I don't have the money to stay afloat until then and then the economy is just going to go into worse recession that its already in. Everybody knows that government is going to feel it little bit by little bit more on a monthly basis, because a lot of the businesses are really making the decision, it's not financially sustainable to stay open so I got to close my doors and I got to relieve my staff permanently for the meantime until the economy begin to kick off."
Despite petitions for government incentives and a push to guarantee the PGIA's original July 1st re-opening, the tourism industry expects to ride out an 18 month period of severely depressed revenues.