Food banks for laid-off hotel workers

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By Elesha George

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Hotel workers who have been laid off amid travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus are in line for assistance from the Antigua & Barbuda Hotel and Tourism Association (ABHTA).

ABHTA has partnered with the Antigua & Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) to offer employees retirement stipends and access to a food bank from April 6.

Patrice Simon, ABHTA’s executive director, said “the majority of our focus right now is on our employees”.

She explained that the association is also revising an existing retirement fund with about 28 hotels in Antigua. 

“In conjunction with ECAB, we are working on making that retirement fund up to 50 per cent accessible over the next three months to ensure that the employees receive a bi-weekly amount,” she added.

The ABHTA is asking sponsors to partner with the association and the union to establish a food bank where they will prepare care packages to laid-off employees.

Simon said 85 percent of the hotel room stock in Antigua closed this week with some providing tentative opening dates of April 15.  However, to date, she said the association does not have reopening dates for the majority of hotels.

“The pace for the past 10 days has significantly accelerated where we’re seeing many hotels now being affected [and] where they’re forced to close their doors and, even in the past 48 hours, we have seen a great impact,” she told an online tourism meeting on Tuesday.

Simon said 70 hotels have announced closure dates across the Caribbean, putting an estimated 2,600 people out of work. That number represents 75 per cent of the hotels’ employee base.

Only 15 per cent of hotel room stock (540 in the Caribbean) are choosing to remain open for now, she said.

Meanwhile, tourism officials here have already begun to mull over how they can remobilise Antigua and Barbuda as a leading global travel destination once the Covid-19 pandemic subsides.

“We have been meeting assiduously, at least three times a week, with all our major directors in the overseas offices, our marketing team here on the ground, social media leads as well as our PR companies in both Canada and North America and the UK, as we craft the plan and the response as to what we’re gonna do,” said Colin James, CEO of the Antigua & Barbuda Tourism Authority (ABTA).

The authority has adopted a three-pronged approach where they will inform and update travel partners on the bans and protocols in place and reinforce past marketing strategies to create a post-Covid-19 plan.

“All of the early research has been telling us that the first persons who would probably come back are the millennials,” James said.

“They are less risk-averse and more willing to travel. Also, the research is beginning to show us that people are going to be looking for destinations that are not crowded, that are remote, that have low-rise type properties, where they can get away to a secluded place where they are not going to be interacting with too many people.”

James shared that businesses have also been offering rock-bottom advertising rates and this, they anticipate, is one way that the authority can get the best possible return on its investments.

He hopes that airline customers will remember how appreciative they were when the country was one of only a few territories to allow families to reunite when so many others were closing their borders. “More than anything else, when this thing settles, a lot of it is going to be depending on the relationship that you have with partners to be able to bounce back and bounce back quickly,” James said.

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