Press Release:- As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the global economy, millions of people are finding it difficult to make ends meet.
In Saint Lucia, where the tourism industry is the country’s leading economic sector, the reality is no different.
According to data from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), travel and tourism’s direct, indirect and induced accounted for the following statistics in 2019:
- US$8.9 trillion contribution to the global GDP
- 10.3% of global GDP
- 330 million jobs, or 1 in 10 jobs globally
- US$1.7 trillion visitor exports (6.8% of total exports, 28.3% of global exports)
- US$948 billion capital investment (4.3% of total investment)
Due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a 74% decrease in the number of international arrivals — or one billion fewer international arrivals — during the last year, compared to the 2019 data.
The tourism industry in Saint Lucia accounts for nearly 14,000 direct jobs, with thousands more benefitting from the sector indirectly.
In 2019, direct contribution of travel and tourism to employment (% of GDP) for Saint Lucia was 16%.
But since the pandemic started in December 2019, the numbers have plummeted, forcing many onto the breadline.
Nearly 60 displaced employees from within the local tourism sector got the opportunity to highlight their plight during a Zoom call organized by the Saint Lucia Hospitality & Tourism Association (SLHTA) on March 3, 2021.
Joining the discussion were members of the SLHTA executive committee who sought to reassure the employees that no effort will be spared in bringing relief to their plight.
Among the concerns raised by the employees were:
- Food Security: Employees explained the hardships they are facing purchasing basic food items and the need for discounted food items at supermarkets. Some are worried that not being able to provide proper nutrition for their families might lead to other health issues.
- Meeting Childcare and Utility Costs: Employees, especially single mothers, sought support in order to keep up with the cost of childcare and mounting utility payments. While some admitted that they were given temporary reprieve by some utility companies and landlords, they were worried about the long-term. Utilities are important, they noted, since students are now being home-schooled via virtual meetings. In that vein, employees suggested that the SLHTA advocates on behalf of its membership for moratoriums with the Bankers Association.
- Income Support: Employees spoke to the need for the creation of an employment fund within the sector to benefit displaced employees whenever their employment is disrupted due to natural disasters and other unforeseen circumstances. In that vein, employees spoke to the need for the shortlisting of short- to medium- and long-term support for displaced employees.
- Mental Health and Legal Support: Employees suggested the need for the provision of mental health support for employees. Support for displaced employees on legal matters, including in instances where the advice of the Department of Labour is insufficient, was another major concern raised by employers.
SLHTA President, Karolin Troubetzkoy, endorsed the idea of the virtual meeting, adding that the comments from the Zoom call provide a clearer picture about the challenges being faced by the displaced employees.
“Going forward, I would like to see this forum continue and I hope we will have a chance to have our hospitality workers and team members speak up, give us great advice and recommendations,” Troubetzkoy explained. “Your voice not only matters, but is really important. Our advocacy is better when we hear from all of you as to what it is you want us to advocate for.”
Troubetzkoy added that while the SLHTA cannot replace a complete social safety net for the country, the organization will make every effort to support those who are in extremely difficult circumstances.
She noted that some forecasts indicate that tourism arrivals numbers for 2019 may not be replicated until 2024, and that supporting each other during these challenging times is essential.
The SLHTA president also urged employees within the tourism sector to continue stressing the importance of the tourism sector.
“Please continue to highlight the value of tourism because, sadly, the public has lost confidence in tourism,” she said. “I think they need to hear from you how critical it is that we’re allowed to operate to the fullest again. There will be light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not quite there yet.”
Meanwhile, the SLHTA has, for the past fifteen months, been providing much-needed support to displaced employees in various ways via its Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF). The TEF is an initiative by President Troubetzkoy during a previous term which gained the support of the hotel sector and was launched in October 2013 to encourage the organization’s greater involvement in the sustainable development of Saint Lucia.
Chief Executive Officer Noorani Azeez, who chaired the Zoom session, said the comments and recommendations emanating from the interactive session have been documented. The SLHTA executive committee will now dialogue internally as to how the Association’s systems can be tweaked in order to deliver the necessary support.
“We might not be able to hit every mark. However, by the time we next meet, we would be in a position where we would have addressed a number of these issues in a positive way,” Azeez explained.