Noting that the tourism sector is on life support, the BVICCHA in a statement on Thursday, March 3, 2021, said it is disappointed at the news that the reopening of seaports has been delayed for a second time since the initial announcement to open the seaports in December 2020.
“The seaports are the main point of destination access into the Virgin Islands and a further delay to April 2021 at the end of the regular tourism season is another blow to an already fragile situation.”
It further said that the delay means that for the second year in a row, the accommodations and food services sector, which “accounted for over $80 million in economic activity in 2016”, has suffered another major disruption that could result in permanent business closures.
The further delay to the reopening of the seaports was announced by the BVI Ports Authority (BVIPA) on February 24, 2021.
According to the BVIPA, the reopening of the Road Town Jetty to incoming visitors has been deferred to April 15, 2021, for several reasons including “that islands within the region have reported increased numbers of COVID-19 cases” and the “increased possibility of the introduction of variant strains from international travellers.”
It also said due to the demands of the roll-out of the vaccines and the need to ensure a large percent of the local population is vaccinated, the health personnel normally needed to assist in monitoring procedures at the entry portal is significantly stretched and as such the efficiency to monitor the opening is challenged.
BVICCHA said while the business community appreciates the priority of public health and safety, a balance is needed to protect livelihoods that, if not preserved, will have a long-lasting impact and result in socioeconomic fallout such as poverty due to chronic under-employment or unemployment.
It continued that the tourism sector businesses, which have earned little to no revenue over the past twelve (12) months, are in a dire position and unable to return persons to work or pay severance without going bankrupt.
“It is important to remember that the local economy is integrated and if one sector(s) is in distress, there is a significant impact across all. For example, the professional services sector, including the transportation, wholesale and retail sectors, will also be negatively impacted.
“As reported in October 2020, many businesses that rely on tourism dollars, directly or indirectly, have exhausted savings trying to survive thus far, and some are going into debt trying to sustain operations.”
The BVICCHA also claimed that some businesses are still reporting that they have not received business relief assistance promised from six months ago.
“This situation further highlights the need for immediate strategic actions to diversify the economy in the next 3-5 years to limit the economic shockwave of this magnitude. We again make the call for a Comprehensive Economic Recovery and Development Plan to be developed with stakeholder consultations that include unemployment benefit scheme, economic relief/paycheck protection program, bank deposit insurance, moratoriums, and bankruptcy regulations.
BVICCHA said longer-term goals such as diversification, workforce development plan, and regulations that make a more business-friendly environment also needs to be included in its proposed plan.
“A key element to start this planning process is quarterly economic reporting to provide information for planning and decision-making.
Meanwhile, the BVICCHA said it will be hosting a virtual Business Stakeholders Meeting on Thursday, March 11, 2021, at 5:30 pm.
It said all business owners are invited to attend to share their concerns and ideas.
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