BVICCHA Warns of Delayed Economic Recovery
As the proactive Voice of Business, the BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association (BVICCHA) is continuing to raise concerns that the tourism sector is on life support. We are disappointed at the news that the opening of seaports has been delayed for a second time since the initial announcement to open 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. 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. 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.
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. 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 & 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 business community has a vital role to play in the Virgin Islands’ economic success and to initiate dialogue on the way forward. The BVICCHA will be hosting a virtual Business Stakeholders Meeting on Thursday 11 March 2021, at 5:30 pm. All business owners are invited to attend to share their concerns and ideas. Register on our website at www.bviccha.org. Remember, Your Business Is Our Business! We Got You! Practice good hygiene and physical distancing. Be safe and be well.