Small hotels facing foreclosure

THE spread of the Covid-19 virus and the cancellation of Carnival 2021, have strongly affected travel and tourism and as a consequence the hotel industry, especially boutique hotels.

The unexpected market shifts brought about by the spread of the virus have left small hoteliers wondering what to do, as revenues have been affected by 80 to 100 per cent.

President of the Small Tourism Accommodation Owners of Trinidad and Tobago (STAOTT) Denise Aleong told Express Business last week Thursday that a few boutique hotels had to shutter their doors and a bank foreclosed one hotel due to non-payment of loan instalments.

Aleong, who is also the owner of Samise Villa located in St Ann’s, said from the start of the pandemic to now she has had fewer than ten visitors to her villa.

“This is rough on hotel owners as annually you have peak and off seasons, which you cater for, but since Covid there has been no peak season and owners had to put out more money to ensure that they were abiding by all the Covid protocols.”

She lamented that because of this hit that local small hotels have taken, some boutique hotels transformed their space into new businesses in order to get a steady income, while others are doing long-term rentals.

“Not because there are no visitors on your property means the overhead expenses stop. It now makes it harder on the owner to meet monthly deadlines with little or no money coming in.”

Aleong noted that the owners did not have the usual domestic travel to depend on as the inter-island travelling was uncertain before the APT James vessel began operating last month.

In painting a grim outlook of the situation she said some STAOTT members cannot even pay their utility bills far less for membership fees.

“STAOTT cannot offer financial assistance, but we are trying to help them get support through other organisations that can assist financially and we are also preparing the membership for when travel reopens.”

According to Aleong, the large hotels are feeling the effect as well but not the full brunt like the boutique hotels, as they have restaurants, spas and other amenities to help generate an income. Small hotels are not equipped with these amenities.

Asked whether the association received assistance from the Government, the hotel owner said not directly but only what was offered through the Covid Salary Relief Grant and Entrepreneurial Relief grant offered by NEDCO to the property owners. She was unable to say if all owners were able to secure the funding.

“STAOTT presented a proposal for relief through Tourism Trinidad Limited and NEDCO to assist the hotels to have cash flow to help offset their operating costs and for upgrades, but this is still in discussion so I cannot divulge any more information at this time. But we are hopeful to get some positive feedback,” Aleong said.

She also added that Coblentz Inn, Samise Villa, The Cannons Hotel, Chez Jeanne Bed and Breakfast, Inna Citi Place and Pax Guest house obtained the CARPHA health assurance stamp, which is granted to tourism entities and destinations that are implementing the recommended proactive Covid-19 health monitoring and safety measures.

Speaking on the crippling impact caused by the pandemic Chris James, president of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association said occupancy is 16 per cent for the year thus far.

James said this figure is worrying and some hoteliers are not even sure where they are going to get money to pay their utilities.

“Hotels are not able to employ staff on a full-time basis so everyone is doing it on a rotation basis in order for the staff to earn some kind of income. While only one small hotel has shut its doors due to lack of revenue, I believe other owners will follow as 16 per cent occupancy cannot sustain overhead expenses,” James said.

He noted while there was a slight uptick for the holiday season it was not enough to generate income for a long period.

James said the Tobago villas are performing much better with the domestic travel as persons like the exclusivity.

“Everyone is feeling the effects from the pandemic: tour operators, dive shops, restaurants and bars. It’s a serious situation and the current deadlock from the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) January 25 elections is not helping the situation as no other conversation is being had at the moment...”

Both Aleong and James said the Government needs to set up a tourism committee to deal with the issues that are affecting the sector.

A TripAdvisor research on hospitality trends based on global traveller searches and survey data across six markets (United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, Japan and Singapore), revealed a new 2021 travel mindset.

Despite the financial impact of the pandemic hitting many hard, in the first three weeks of January, Tripadvisor travellers were searching for pricier trips than they had in the past two years during the same period.

In fact, the average cost of a single future trip in 2021 has jumped 13 per cent since January 2019.

The survey showed about a quarter (24 per cent) of global travellers are planning to take three or more international trips in 2021, with Americans leading the globe—a third (33 per cent) of US travellers anticipate taking three or more trips abroad.

RECOMMENDED FOR YOU

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago withdrew roughly US$900 million from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF) in fiscal year 2020 (October 1, 2019 – September 30, 2020). For fiscal year 2021 thus far it has drawn down a further US$300 million to meet recurrent expenditure as actual first quarter revenues fell 13 per cent below the estimated levels. Under the revised HSF Act, passed on March 26, 2020, the maximum allowable withdrawal in a fiscal year is US$1.5 billion.

AGOSTINI’S Ltd, a publicly listed company that is majority owed by the Mouttet family, announced yesterday that its pharmaceutical distribution subsidiary, Smith Robertson, acquired 100 per cent of a smaller pharmaceutical distributor, Oscar Francois Ltd, and an associate company.

SUSPICIOUS financial transactions totalling $27 billion were reported to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIUTT) in the financial year ending September 2020.

Delivering a statement in the House of Representatives yesterday on the annual report of the FIUTT for the year October 2019 to September 2020, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said during the reporting period “of Trinidad and Tobago and for the first time, the FIUTT received a total of 1,831 Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs)/Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs), the most it has received throughout its ten-year existence”.

Former public utilities minister Robert Le Hunte says the country’s water storage capacity is beneath international standards and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

He also said building codes, such as in neighbouring Barbados, should factor into water storage.