Stimulus package in works says Tourism Minister

Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee says the government is actively discussing ‘a possible stimulus package’ for the island’s hotels, especially those already feeling catastrophic early effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

With three hotels officially closed down and several guest houses, restaurants and bars affected by mass booking cancellations and suspension of calls by cruise liners, the minister says all hotels are affected, one with 300 rooms having had an 80% cancellation of bookings in just one day.

Outlining the country’s losses thus far from cancellations and other stoppages, Fedee reported that (up to March 15) over 15,700 cruise ship passengers were lost through trip cancellations or ships being redirected, with further losses expected from some 16 cruise calls cancelled, affecting between 40,000 and 50,000 visitors also to be affected by the travel restrictions locally and bans internationally.

Airlines were also affected, he said, resulting in seven British Airways and up to possibly five Virgin Atlantic weekly flights also affected.

The minister said such large numbers reduced the ability of the government to collect the US $100 airport head tax and the US $250 that hotels collect on average from overnight visitors would no longer flow like before.

He noted that the United Kingdom market provides up to 20% of all overnight stays, but while travel restrictions prevented more from arriving, there were also between 3,000 British Airways passengers among 4,500 European hotel guests on island scurrying to return home.

‘This is a time of bleak business for hotels,’ the minister said, ‘but they and the travel industry are doing all they can.’

Fedee said Saint Lucia was not the only island affected as official regional tourism monitors report that regional and international airports ‘have basically become ghost towns’, with the only occasional passengers being ‘nationals returning home from abroad.’

The minister acknowledged the offer of hotels and other private tourism facilities to use part of the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) that the Saint Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association (SLHTA) has been collecting from visitors over time, to assist in the fight against Covid-19.  

The minister warned, however, against ‘panic and shock waves’ rippling across the hotel sector in particular, as employees continue to speculate wildly as they try to find out what properties housed the two affected visitors — and their families and friends.

He however strongly urged workers to ‘desist from the rumor mill that is causing so much shock and panic’ and called on employers to recognize that the workers too ‘need factual information consistently, to prevent them from depending on or believing rumors or misinformation.’

Minister Fedee said that in all its considerations to date, government had put the safety of Saint Lucians ahead of the economics of tourism, ‘because health and safety comes ahead of profits, in these times.’