The BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association (BVICCHA) supports the Government’s proactive response to the COVID-19 pandemic over the last few weeks and support the position that public health and safety is the priority. As a business community, it is understood that this is a time of sacrifice by us as a society and we are committed to doing our part. The BVICCHA Business Committee assembled a task force to look at the socioeconomic implications of the pandemic and held a conference call meeting on 19 March 2020 with various industry representatives to receive reports on the current ground conditions and identify solutions for recommendation on how to best support businesses in this economic crisis.
A letter was submitted to the Premier and Minister of Finance, Hon. Andrew A. Fahie on 21 March 2020 with a situation report about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the local business community and recommended mitigation actions needed to stave off an economic recession as a result of the global slowdown over the last month. In their letter, they lobbied for urgent action to be taken to support and stabilize businesses as the providers of goods, services, employment and tax revenue in our economy.
The heaviest impact has been on the Hospitality Industry (hotels, restaurants, yachting, etc.) and it is to the point where some have temporarily closed or are contemplating closing in the coming weeks. Other industries represented on the call were construction, taxi, banking, real estate, early childhood centers, retailers, medical services, shipping and persons from Jost Van Dyke and Anegada. Subsequent calls were made to Virgin Gorda and findings were included. Other businesses have reduced hours of operation but the decrease in revenue is taking a toll. Businesses reported implementing the guidelines published by the Government such as remote working and increased sanitization protocol to protect employees and customers.
The current situation was deemed to be dire because of decreased business activity across all sectors due to travel, social gatherings, remote working and other restrictions. This has led to decreased operating revenue and businesses have to contemplate layoffs or reducing working hours for staff. They reported that the next 90 days are a critical period and interventions are needed to mitigate against temporary business closures, increased unemployment, the potential for an economic recession and to keep money circulating in the local economy for as long as possible.
The measures proposed were for an economic stimulus package that includes payment of outstanding payments to small businesses by Government; unemployment benefits through the social security system; a disaster fund as part of the Emergency fund for small business loans for small businesses that experience what’s called economic injury after disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics, etc.); deferment of utility bills for employers and employees for next 90 days; and putting Government services online, e.g. payment portal and application processes.
The Chamber also proposed that it would be looking into how business interruption insurance can be more cost-effective for the wider business community and the development of an economic diversification strategy as long -term measures needed to make the economy more disaster resilient. In the letter, interim Chairman, Shaina M. Smith remarked that “it is no longer acceptable for the vulnerabilities in our economy to be tolerated and other industries need to be developed to reduce the vulnerability and for economic growth.”
The Chamber is offering business support services to any business that is experiencing economic hardship and ask that you call the office at 494-3514 or go to http://www.bviccha.org/form/view/19442 to register your concern. More COVID-19 resources are available on their website www.bviccha.org. The BVICCHA encourages businesses to continue to adhere to guidelines issued by the Government and that we must work together to empower and equip ourselves in the short- and long-term for economic success.