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Guyana’s tourism sector loses earnings, jobs since COVID-19; appeal issued for govt relief

The coronavirus, COVID-19, has taken a toll on Guyana’s tourism sector, resulting in a 46-percent decline in earnings and a 30-percent loss of jobs to date, according to the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA).

The authority, which is a semi-autonomous government agency, predicted that 50 percent of tourism businesses would have to close their doors permanently if they do not get a bailout.

“Based on the social and economic implications of this economic shock, the GTA is encouraging the Ministry of Finance and policymakers to work towards identifying low-cost financial support and supplemental financing options for the tourism sector over the near term, including those available from international financial institutions,” the GTA said.

The GTA warned that “a failure to act will have adverse implications for the fiscal and debt sustainability of hundreds of tourism businesses and put at risk the hard-won gains achieved by the GTA and sector over the last two years.”

Noting that an additional 36 percent of workers have been granted leave of absence or placed on unpaid leave, the GTA recommended top five actions that are required for business to survive and sustain. They include waiving the value added tax (VAT), income tax, social security (National Insurance Scheme) payments or giving a six-month extension for payments through a reassessment of the recovery period.

The GTA also recommends VAT exemption and tax waivers on the travel and tourism sector with immediate effect for a minimum of 12 months or until the economic situation returns to normalcy to mitigate losses and allow businesses to use cash to save jobs and keep businesses afloat.

Another relief measure being proposed by the GTA are direct disbursements to businesses to cover employment costs, and/or unemployment payments to qualified travel and tourism employees and other Guyanese who are earning less than GY$10 million a year and who are at risk for facing severe economic hardships.

The GTA also wants ports of entry to be reopened after putting into place restrictions for passengers on flights to Guyana and adequate systems to facilitate the orderly medical screening and, as necessary, the quarantining and monitoring of arriving passengers who have or may have been exposed to the virus, no-interest loans, loan guarantees and loan forgiveness for tourism businesses as a stimulus to prevent them from closing their doors for an extended period and to support product improvements.

The Tourism Authority recommended, among other things, the formulation of a Rebound Marketing Action Plan to be rolled out immediately after the crisis has passed, keep destination Guyana top among international travellers through digital platforms, storytelling, and media and trade engagement with a focus on inspirational content, ramp up virtual meetings and sector engagements for product development, training, and licensing activities, and waive GTA Registration and Licensing Fees and GTA-led Training Programme fees for six months beginning April 1, and offer one-on-one business advice to local tourism businesses and communities.

The GTA is responsible for developing and promoting sustainable tourism in Guyana through collaboration with sister agencies and the private sector in order to maximise local socio-economic and conservation outcomes and improve the travellers’ experience. The GTA is focused on Guyana becoming recognised locally and internationally as a premier destination for protecting its natural and cultural heritage, providing authentic experiences, and maximising local socio-economic benefit.