With the widespread negative impact of the Coronavirus on the tourism sector locally, the BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association (BVICCHA) is warning that the continuous delay in reopening the territory’s seaports could cause businesses to become permanently closed.
A number of food and beverage-based facilities have closed in recent times due to the COVID
-19 pandemic and its effects on travel.
The BVICCHA said in a statement issued today, March 4, 2021, that they are disappointed by the news and are continuing to raise concerns because the sector is “on life support.”
“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. This would mean 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 BVICCHA argued.
The BVICCHA stated that while the business community appreciates the prioritization 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: “The tourism sector businesses, which have earned little to no revenue over the past 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.”
The chamber said, as per a report issued 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. Some businesses are still reporting that they have not received business relief assistance promised from six months ago.”
In the meantime, the chamber said the situation is again highlighting the need for immediate strategic actions to diversify the economy in the next 3 to 5 years to minimize the economic shockwave.
“We again make the call for a Comprehensive Economic Recovery & 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. Longer-term goals such as diversification, workforce development plan, and regulations that make a more business-friendly environment also needs to be included in this plan. A key element to start this planning process is quarterly economic reporting to provide information for planning and decision-making.”
The reopening of the seaports was deferred to April 15 after being pushed back for the third time.