Barbados’ government will spend $150 million to retain “tens of thousands of Bajan hospitality and tourism workers left unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic at 80 percent of their previous salaries, the nation’s governor general said this week.
Sandra Mason, the southern Caribbean nation’s governor general, made the announcement in a parliamentary speech delivered September 16. The Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation (BEST) project will position island hoteliers and tourism companies to “retain at least 75 percent of the workforce, create sustainable jobs, honor their statutory obligations and manage their debt,” Mason said.
The BEST program will also assist hoteliers and tourism companies “to protect, and in some instances, to expand the nation’s hotel stock and to help save our enterprises from bankruptcy and insolvency.” Funds will be distributed through “investment in the companies by way of a class of shares that mirrors preference shares,” plus “some limited opportunity for grants,” said Mason.
Nearly 40,000 Barbados residents were left unemployed by the COVID-19 pandemic, with most of the idled workers from the tourism industry. Travel and tourism accounts for approximately 45 percent of Barbados’ gross domestic product, with 15,000 people employed in direct tourism activity and an estimated 32,000 in tourism-related fields, according to a Barbados Today report.
Mason said the stimulus package will “protect jobs, support the balance sheets of our companies in the tourism sector and those of direct tourism services,” and ensure public and tourism infrastructure “remains fit for when some level of normalcy returns.”
The plan will enable tourism firms to retain workers at 80 percent of their normal salaries for up to two years, Mason said. The funding will only be available “if tourism numbers and revenues remain below the levels required for the survival of the sector,” she added.
This program will also support “the substantial upskilling of workers in the sector” including “citizenship training” for tourism companies and workers. Mason said participating hospitality and tourism companies will also be required to commit “greening through water conservation and water harvesting measures where applicable and the installation of renewable energy capacity to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.”
Mason said Barbados’ government will launch a “Green and Digital Investment Fund” to direct sustainability measures and encourage digitizing Barbados’ tourism-related processes, payments and systems.
Tourism firms will also be expected to invest in “localizing the value chain” through stronger connections with Bajan farmers, manufacturers, artists, contractors and professional service providers. In addition, collaborative initiatives including “joint websites, tours, marine sculptures parks, water ferries, and similar initiatives” will be encouraged, said Mason.
She added that participating businesses will not be permitted to “draw dividends or unreasonably increase the compensation of management and owners” prior to repaying the program’s investment in their businesses.
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