The Saint Lucia Hospitality & Tourism Association (SLHTA) has reiterated its commitment towards understanding the full socio-economic impact that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is having on industry stakeholders.
On Wednesday, March 3, 2021, the SLHTA convened a Zoom call during which 60 employees from the non-accommodation establishments within the tourism industry voiced their concerns. The forum also included members of the SLHTA executive committee, including President Karolin Troubetzkoy, First Vice-President John Mathurin, Second Vice-President Erwin Louisy, and Chief Executive Officer Noorani Azeez.
The initiative was deemed highly essential and timely as it allowed the SLHTA executive committee and management team a very intimate understanding of the plight being faced by displaced industry employees.
The underlying theme of the 90-minute call was the socio-economic impact the pandemic has had not only on businesses within the industry, but also the thousands of employees who earn their living from the industry.
“The fact is that, from February 19 last year, some of us would have not earned an income in our businesses,” noted John Mathurin, SLHTA’s First Vice-President. “That has not only trickled down to our employees – it has hit them like an avalanche. We’ve seen the level of stress in the entire social strata of Saint Lucia and, from all indications, we are nowhere near seeing a solution.”
Mathurin added: “But the SLHTA has always, at least from the very moment of this sitting Executive, extended a social construct to its ethos. I am confident that if we can get you, the employees of the non-hotel sector, interested in at least telling us about your plight, that there will be a fervent step taken, whether it’s this administration or the incoming one, to assist in alleviating your plight.”
Mathurin said the feedback from businesses and employees will be documented and shared with State institutions towards mobilizing and shaping joint assistance programmes and services for affected employees.
According to SLHTA’s CEO, Noorani Azeez, some studies suggest that more than 14,000 employees have been displaced as a result of the contractions in the local economy caused by the COVD-19 pandemic.
“Within that 14,000, a large number of people come from accommodation establishments and, perhaps, a larger number come from non-accommodation establishments,” said Azeez.
Addressing the displaced employees, Azeez said: “You are by far the bedrock upon which the hospitality and tourism trade is built, so your needs have been paramount over the past year and a half.”
Meanwhile, the SLHTA’s Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) has been instrumental in providing assistance to displaced employees within the hospitality industry over the past 15 months. These include the following:
1. Donating meals to the frontline workers for the transition from Victoria Hospital to OKEU.
2. Assisting in the National Meals Programme. Via that programme, 19,000 meals were prepared and distributed to Communities island-wide.
3. Donating school supplies to the Alexander Family Foundation for students in various impoverished communities on island.
4. Donating to Recover Saint Lucia. Some of these finances were specifically earmarked for the provision of food vouchers to 500 families, including vendors, entertainers, and the Rastafarian community.
5. Providing food vouchers to over 400 displaced industry employees over the Christmas season.
Some of the upcoming projects include:
1. Provision of tablets and care packages to assist 140 families from the hospitality sector.
2. Partnering with a family project. This project seeks to provide financial assistance to families by providing a monthly stipend for a period of 5 months. Along with this assistance, the TEF hopes to provide counseling for these families in need of emotional and psychological support.
3. Providing support for children with special needs in the form of disposable diapers.
4. Supporting the Pediatric Ward at the Owen King EU Hospital.
5. Starting the Eileen Paul Scholarship which will target the children of hospitality workers.
The exchange during the Zoom call was an unprecedented engagement with displaced employees, resulting in the Association making a commitment to host more frequent virtual meetings with industry stakeholders as it continues to map interventions for socio-economic recovery.