Tue | Oct 27, 2020

JHTA secretariat struggling to stay afloat

Published:Wednesday | September 23, 2020 | 12:06 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer

Western Bureau:

Outgoing Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) President Omar Robinson is bemoaning the stranglehold the COVID-19 virus has had on the financial health and operations of his organisation.

Speaking at the JHTA annual general meeting, which was held online on Friday morning, Robinson said the major means of income for the organisation have started to dry up.

“Our financial situation at the JHTA is of utmost concern for our survival. One of our major revenue sources, proceeds from the Our Jamaica book, has dried up in response to the COVID-19 protocol of removing books/magazines from guest rooms,” Robinson said.

“Secondly, due to the pandemic, we have delayed the annual billing for membership dues, which usually is done in March/April of each year. We have subsequently issued invoices since mid-August, offering discounts for early payment,” he added.

He said that as a consequence, a payment plan was being offered to members who have been experiencing financial difficulties to finance their dues, in order to enable the organisation to operate its secretariat and continue to advocate on their behalf.

Robinson expressed disappointment that the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) did not consider the JHTA’s request for a reduction or removal of demand charges to hotels which are not operational. The JPS applies demand charges to large business customers, which it says ensures that the company maintains the capacity to match the peak demand of these entities.

“Meetings were also held with the Jamaica Public Service in an effort to get the demand charges on electricity bills removed or reduced during the closure. However, there was no agreement to this request,” he said.

On the brighter side, Robinson called for an extension of the Jamaica Tourist Board’s (JTB) Rediscover Jamaica programme which targeted the local market, noting that it had positively impacted hotel occupancies during the summer months.

He also implored the JTB to develop mutually beneficial relationships with local tour operators and travel agents, noting that “they stand ready to work with you”.

EMULATE TOURISM SECTOR’S PATTERN

Robinson called on the other members of the productive sector to emulate the pattern set by the tourism sector, re-emphasising that stakeholders had maintained the highest adherence to the established protocols, at great expense, despite reduced capacity and earnings, and made outstanding commitments to staff and visitor safety.

“Because of your strict management of these protocols, we have had no known transmission of the virus at our entities from visitor to staff, and we want to maintain this record,” he told JHTA members.

“This is exemplary for the rest of the country to see and emulate. Contrary to the naysayers who opined that the industry should not reopen in June, we are proud to say the highest numbers of cases are not in the resort areas. We empathise with the rest of the nation and ask them to adopt a similar and responsible approach to curtailing the spread of the virus,” he urged.

Robinson said he remains encouraged by the continuing interest Jamaica enjoys from overseas. He noted that fall occupancies are traditionally low, but despite that, and it being an election year in the United States, there are still some hotels which are seeing positive bookings.

“Some tourism entities are reporting occupancy levels of 50 to 70 per cent for the upcoming winter season. While this is not the general case throughout the industry, it is encouraging to see the interest in travel to Jamaica returning.”

janet.silver@gleanerjm.com