TOBAGO HOTELIERS ASK FOR TAX AMNESTY
Members of the Tobago business community are appealing to Government to give them a tax amnesty and to speak with the Central Bank and Bankers’ Association to hold their hands on foreclosures.
President of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association Chris James told the T&T Guardian yesterday that some business owners had already lost their properties and others have been forced to close because of ongoing problems.
James said the problems facing Tobago “are not of our making” and said he was optimistic that if the Government acts on their appeal for help, “do what we ask, put things in place and give us twelve months, we can turn things around.”
His claims came a day after the T&T Guardian reported exclusively yesterday that owner of the Enchanted Waters Hotel and Casino in Buccoo, Ken Patino, was facing foreclosure due to a mounting debt he owed the bank.
Currently, James said the hotel occupancy in Tobago is less than 34 per cent. He said for the hoteliers and other stakeholders to break even, “we need a fifty per cent occupancy. International business has declined and we are dependent on the Trinidad market, but we have lost out on the July-August vacation because of the air and sea bridge issues and we will not get that money back.”
He lamented “this is now like the final nail in the coffin.”
Already, he said one of the bigger tour operators on the island, Island Girl, had left and gone to Jamaica.
Business owners, he said, now have to make a choice between keeping staff, paying taxes or meeting loan commitments to the banks “because we can’t do all three.”
James said: “We not earning, we not spending, it’s all grinding to a halt.”
One hotelier who declined to be identified, yesterday told the T&T Guardian he was forced to send home staff because of the decline in occupancy. He too feared his business was also on the brink of foreclosure because he is months behind on his mortgage.
Patino, who has been told by the bank his business will be advertised for sale this weekend, has said even if the banks want to foreclose on businesses they should show compassion.
“If they want to sell our properties they should sell them at the real market value take what we owe them and give us the rest,” he said.
At a meeting with stakeholders in Tobago on Monday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley upset the business community when he intimated to them that he was not in control of the banks and could not tell them what to do.
But James said yesterday that if the Government was serious about diversifying the economy, “they must realise that everyone has a role to play, including the banks.” The Government, he said, has the ability to set the agenda “to help us build industry and economy in Tobago.”
While many view the current situation as a “Tobago problem,” James said it is bigger than that.
“Seventy per cent of the tourism dollar stays in Trinidad, which means that 70 per cent of what we make is spent in Trinidad. That helps to create jobs in Trinidad,” he said, pointing out that Tobago produces nothing and is dependent on supplies from Trinidad.
James said Government must also consider the value which local tourism brings to the economy.
At a time of growing concerns about foreign exchange, he said while it has never been truly worked out in dollars and cents, “when Trinidadians holiday in Tobago it means in theory they don’t need foreign exchange and the money stays here. It just makes a lot of economic sense and is a win win situation for the country.”
James said at the meeting on Monday Rowley took notes of what was being said and “we hope in reviewing those notes that he sees there’s sense in what we are saying.”
Several calls to the mobile phone of Tobago East Member of Parliament Ayanna Webster-Roy were unsuccessful as she did not return calls or answer messages. Webster-Roy has been mandated by the Prime Minister to set up a committee comprising stakeholders to look at issues affecting the Tobago business community.