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By Shermain Bique-Charles

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Hotel owners here are undoubtedly bracing for what is clearly a difficult 2021, as the sector continues to reel from a historic drop in bookings caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even though the industry’s worst year in living memory ended with a glimmer of hope, Chairman of the Antigua and Barbuda Hotel and Tourism Association Alex Debrito said the expectations were short lived.

“We had a moment of hope in December because most of the hotels were seeing an increase but it was stopped very quickly because of the UK new restrictions, the Canada closed all the airlines and the new measures of the US impacted us a lot,” he said.

The start of Covid vaccinations in the US and Europe raised the prospect that cruise ships could be sailing soon, but Debrito said it will take years to rise back to pre-pandemic levels.

“In January, we are expected to have 8000 people coming to Antigua, and last year about this same time, we had 33,000. This is 75 percent less than last year,” Debrito explained.

Meanwhile, sinking under the weight of overdue mortgage payments and property taxes, some hotels have already shut down for good, and many others are struggling to survive.

“I have spoken to my colleagues and members of the association, and many of the hotels are trying to remain open. We are worried about our staff. Workers need to keep a job. We are worried about what could be the situation in Antigua and Barbuda, and we want to remain committed to the airline and remain open,” he said.

However, some properties never reopened since the pandemic hit the twin island state in March last year, and about five of these lodgings have given early indications that they are barely keeping their heads above water.

“About five hotels never opened since last march, amounting to about 990 rooms being closed. I can tell you Blue Waters and Ocean Point announced they will close for at least six weeks. How long can we stay open? That’s difficult to answer. We are trying our best and doing everything we can to keep our properties open,” he said.

Although hoteliers are losing money, Debrito said the only way to ensure the sector survives is to keep some properties open.

“We are losing a lot of money, but we realise our only hope is to try and keep the tourism industry alive. . . . It doesn’t make much financial since at this time, however we believe that’s not the end of it,” Debrito added.

Hoteliers are encouraged to come up with innovative ideas to attract guests as soon as travel resumes.

All told, more than 20,000 hotel employees have been out of work for more than six months, making the industry one of the hardest hit in Antigua and Barbuda, and emblematic of the challenges the government faces as it tries to recover from the economic crisis set off by the coronavirus outbreak.