Tuesday 2 June, 2020

Tourism workers concerned about financial fall-out from COVID-19

As Jamaica's tourism industry continues to suffer from the downturns in business arising from the global spread of coronavirus, workers employed within the sector are becoming increasingly concerned about the financial fall-out they face.

Several hotels, including Sandals and Beaches Resorts, RIU in western Jamaica and Couples Resorts, have already temporarily closed their doors as travel restrictions and local operating protocols have forced many tourists to stay at home. This has generally resulted in the laying off of their staff.

A female hotel worker on the north coast, who asked for her identity to be withheld, described the fall-out caused by the coronavirus as a nightmare.

"Coronavirus couldn't have come at a worst time; it's a nightmare! I had so many plans for 2020, including part-time study at university in September, but all that seem to now be futile, as I will be home for two months without a chance to earn additional funds to support my education dream," she explained.

While expressing gratitude to her employers who will be compensating her as well as other employees with a percentage of their salary, along with care packages, the 28-year-old woman indicated that challenging times are ahead.

"I am grateful (for the compensation), but when you consider the rent, utilities, groceries, medical bills for the two months (at home), I will require additional sources of income to cover them. Some persons have car loans to repay... How will those be repaid? How long will this virus last for? What if the hotels are not opened soon...? It's a headache right now all around," she said.

A man who has been employed to a north coast hotel for the past six years, who spoke on the condition that his identity be also withheld, shared similar sentiments, that his personal life will be affected by the pending closure.

"I had to speak to the lady I rented my apartment from in Ocho Rios and explained to her my situation. She understood in part, but still wanted her money. I can't blame her.

"I have security experience, so right now I have to see if I can get a link there so I can have an income to balance what the hotel will be giving me while I'm off... I have to survive somehow, because the hotel had no other choice," he stated.

A number of hotel workers who wished not to speak on record, also revealed that they have also been offered a percentage of their salaries for the time they will be home.

On Saturday, Founder and Chairman of Sandals and Beaches Resorts, Gordon 'Butch' Stewart, stated in a release that his resorts will be closed from March 30 to May 15, 2020.

"Never could we have imagined the impact the current global health crisis would have on the world in these unprecedented times, and now more than ever, the safety and health of our valued guests are of paramount importance," Stewart said in the release.

The announcement by Sandals followed that of RIU, which closed three of its hotel properties in western Jamaica on Thursday, March 19.

The three hotels affected are RIU Palace Jamaica, RIU Negril and RIU Montego Bay, and about 1,000 workers are expected to be left without jobs during the period of closure at the three affected properties.

Another big hotel group in the island, Couples Resorts, announced late last week the temporary closure of its four all-inclusive properties on the island, citing the growing travel restrictions as countries, including Jamaica, battle to contain the rapid spread of COV!ID-19.

The Couples properties that are scheduled for closer for over a month, starting from March 28 to April 30, are Couples Sans Souci, Couples Tower Isle, Couples Negril and Couples Swept Away.

Edmund Bartlett

Meanwhile, tour operators and craft traders have also been affected, as cruise ships, which provided them with their main source of income, have also temporarily stopped arriving as a result of the continued spread of the coronavirus.

A tour operator, Arnold Harris, lamented that the denial of cruise ships at the main ports has led to major economic burdens.

"Honestly, we the tour operators who mainly operate from the cruise ports, feel it the most right now, because we mostly get our income from the cruise ships, so now there is no income coming in. All that we are relying on now is savings, and how long will it last?

"Some persons I know took out new vehicles in anticipation of high numbers of stopover arrivals this year, but now with the corona ting, how will they pay their bills? The Government needs to step in right now and see what they can do for us, because we won't survive," Harris detailed.

He further indicated that craft traders with whom he has been communicating, are the hardest hit, as they earn an income daily from purchases of their items.

"No one is really buying their craft items now, so the Government will have to try and compensate them too, no matter how small it is," Harris added.

There is a glimmer of hope, as Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett, has sought to reassure sector workers that the ministry is working to mitigate the adverse effects of the temporary loss of earnings which will accompany the imminent closure of virtually Jamaica's entire tourism industry due to the global spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

"I know that this is a difficult time as we all grapple with the threat of this new, global pandemic – COVID-19.  As we navigate these unchartered waters, I want you to know that we are working assiduously to cushion the impact that it will have on you and your livelihoods," Bartlett said in a letter to tourism workers on Saturday night.

He added that: "I have been in constant dialogue with my colleague Minister of Finance to iron out a financial package that can help you in this time of uncertainty and rapid change. All our stakeholders are also working together to develop and co-ordinate strategies for limiting the risks associated with this pandemic."

He said while tourism is extremely vulnerable to adverse circumstances, it also has the historic ability to rebound.

 "With that fact, we must look to the future when the sector will be bustling with activity again. In the meantime, I urge you all to keep yourselves and families safe.  Please continue to exercise proper hygienic practices and keep abreast of the situation by listening to the releases from the health authorities," the tourism minister stated.

As of Sunday, Jamaica has recorded 19 cases of coronavirus infections with one reported death.

The picture globally, however, remains rather grim, as more than 275,000 coronavirus cases have been confirmed, with over 11,000 deaths, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.

At least 88,000 people have recovered from infection.

Many individuals across the globe have been laid off from work in varying sectors, including tourism, as the economic fall-out from the virus continues to unfold across the world.

Get the latest local and international news straight to your mobile phone for free: