Some tourism stakeholders grateful for long-awaited Gov’t grants

NEGRIL, Hanover — Some tourism stakeholders who have been reeling from the novel coronavirus-related downturn in the hospitality industry have begun receiving the grant that was last year promised by the Government.

In March of last year, Finance and the Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke announced the provision of approximately $2 billion in grant assistance for tourism and small businesses impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic, after Jamaica recorded its first case of the respiratory virus on March 10.

The funds were made available under the Government’s COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) Programme.

Dr Clarke had explained that the grants would be accessible via application to a special multi-stakeholder COVID Tourism Grant Committee and by submitting specific information such as audited financials and management accounts, projected cash flow statements along with assumptions, recovery plans, and tax compliance certificate.

A grateful Richard Wallace, who is the president of the Negril Chamber of Commerce and the owner and operator of the Boardwalk Village Hotel and the Boardwalk Shopping Village in Negril, told the Jamaica Observer that after almost a year players in the industry started receiving the promised cash last week Monday.

“The situation is that after almost a year now since the pandemic started some of us have finally received our grants that were applied for from last year. We just want to let the Government know how appreciative we are of this, and that we are really, really thankful that we have a Government that was able to step up and help the sector in the way that it did. We know that it’s very challenging for all of us, including the Government. Everybody’s revenues are down, but, you know, they still kept their promise and they saw it a good thing to assist the sector to keep us alive and keep us afloat,” said Wallace.

He added: “We criticise the Government when they don’t do things, and I want to commend them when they do something.”

Wallace explained that the Government had distributed award letters last year, “but they had some hitches, and we have been waiting since last year for the grants to be disbursed”. Though he could not say if all who received letters have received the funds, he confirmed that several people have so far received it in their bank accounts.

Wallace said the well-needed money, which had a cap of $5 million, will go a far way in addressing things such as expenses incurred during the industry downturn.

“Most people have been counting on this and waiting on this for many months now, and we are really happy that it is finally here and we can use it to pay up some of our bills and to bring ourselves up to date, as much as we can. I know for some people it is not enough, but, obviously, some money is better than no money at all. So, we are very appreciative,” the Negril Chamber of Commerce president insisted.

President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) Negril chapter, Ann Chen, is also grateful, pointing out that most of her members in this resort town are small players who have been experiencing adverse economic effects.

“It will be extremely beneficial to them because it is well needed. As we all know, the hospitality sector has been most affected by COVID and most of the small operators have actually been closed or operating at very low occupancy,” said Chen.

Last year, the Government had also provided Supporting Employees with the Transfer of Cash (SET Cash) and Business Employee Support and Transfer of Cash (BEST Cash) under the CARE Programme.

Under the SET Cash grant programme, which was extended, assistance was given to workers whose employment was terminated after March 10 as a result of the pandemic and were earning $1.5 million or less. Meanwhile, the BEST Cash component of the programme provides temporary cash transfers to businesses operating within the tourism industry that are registered with the Tourism Product Development Company, based on the number of workers they kept employed, who are at or under the income tax threshold of $1.5 million per annum.

“It has been a very rough year for most of us. We have been struggling. We have been trying to keep it together and the BEST Cash helped us, and the SET Cash helped the workers,” Wallace said.

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