Bartlett appeals for regional unity in responding to COVID-19

As the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) sweeps through the Caribbean, destroying economies in its path, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett says he will continue his appeal for regional cooperation on the pandemic.

Bartlett informed a digital press briefing from his New Kingston office on Friday that Caribbean tourism has been so heavily impacted by the COVID-19 fallout that it requires collaboration through the Caribbean Community (Caricom) in general, and for tourism through the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre (GTRCM) at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, St Andrew.

“As a matter of fact, the region is likely to lose some US$62 billion in foreign exchange earnings this year, and some 2.4 million workers are being affected,” he said, as he described the implications for the Caribbean economy as “very, very dire”.

He pointed out that already in Jamaica approximately 120,000 people, or 75 per cent of the workers employed directly to the Jamaican tourism industry, have been laid off.

“That’s significant for us to consider when we are looking at how hard all of us have to work…All of us have to work hard to ensure that our unemployment figures hold only for a short period of time, because the longer the period of time that it holds is the more dire the straits will be,” Bartlett warned.

“It is that of the 18 countries of the Caricom area, some 15 have tourism dependence of 30 per cent and more. When I went through the listing it pained me, because it showed the contributions of tourism to the, GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of these countries, the highest one, of course, being the Virgin Islands with 73.1 per cent (Jamaica is at 34.7 per cent),” Bartlett noted.

He said that a further implication for employment is that nine of the regional countries are showing unemployment impact of more than 30 per cent, with the highest impact being St Kitts and Nevis, where 60 per cent of employment is related to tourism.

He noted that Jamaica’s aggregate share of employment is 9.7 per cent in direct employment, and indirect and induced employment of 31.5 per cent.

Bartlett also pointed out that a look at the share of receipts, which shows the export earnings of tourism for each of the countries and the percentage in relation to the gross earnings, reveals the same pattern emerging, with The Bahamas the highest at 65.2 per cent.

“So we can see why we have to work very hard to restore tourism in the region, and why it is so critical that all of us work very assiduously to flatten the curve to reduce the length of time that this recovery takes, because the economies overall are suffering and bleeding as a result,” he added.

He noted that in terms of direct employment, the 160,000 people who are absorbed in the local tourism industry will be impacted in one way or another by the recently announced stimulus package. However, 120,000 of those workers have already been laid off, meaning that only 25 per cent of the workers directly employed to the industry are still working.

In addition, the 40,000 of them who are still employed are working for either two days or three days a week, for a fraction of their normal pay from the hotels.

“So, in essence, 120,000 or 75 per cent of the workers employed directly to the industry are now laid off, and that’s significant for us to consider when we are looking at how hard all of us have to work,” he explained.

Bartlett noted that for the first two months of the year, Jamaica was doing “very well” with tourism, earning US$859 million.

“So everything was going well and we brought in just a little over a million visitors, in fact. So the trajectory was positive and strong. What we want to do is to get back into the [groove] as quickly as possible, so that the earnings for Jamaica can in fact be restored,” he stated.

Bartlett’s call for regional consultations on the approach to the COVID-19 disease and the recovery of regional economies seems to be gaining some traction since April, with Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne making a similar call last week.

“Up until now there is no rescue plan for the Caribbean and we need a rescue plan. This is not a situation where we are trying to ask for assistance conveniently. It is an absolute necessity,” Browne said in an article appearing in The Miami Herald on Tuesday.

“Right now the region needs a Marshall Plan,” he told the Herald as he urged a write-off on debt payments and grants from the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and other Washington-based financial institutions.

“I believe that after the next 60 to 90 days, [our] countries will become totally broke and would not be able to meet certain expenses, so there needs to be some level of international coordination and cooperation,” Browne was quoted as saying.

He said he hopes to get the 15-member Caricom Community to speak with one voice on matters including the virus’ economic impact, and how leaders can best address the challenges resulting from it.



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