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Trinidad: Hospitality sector ready for re-opening but not without challenges

The hospitality sector is ready, armed with a comprehensive policy, including training workshops and mandatory health and safety protocols, to re-open for business on Monday.

The sector, which includes restaurants, bars and hotels, is the largest arm of the services industry, employing an estimated 137,000 people. “And that’s just direct employment, not even the informal sector,” chairman of the TT Beverage Alcohol Alliance, Dr Patrick Antoine, noted in an interview with Newsday on Friday. It was not farfetched, then, he added that it would have felt the biggest economic blow from the covid19 lockdowns.

“Because of sheer size and role in economy, the closure would have been severe in all but a few instances,” he said. Since March 17 all bars and restaurants were closed as the government implemented strict policies to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. Hotels were allowed to remain open, but when the borders closed about a week after restaurants and bars, occupancy rates plummeted. Supermarkets, as an essential service, were also allowed to remain open to sell alcoholic beverages, Antonie noted but that’s just a small percentage of sales. The association estimates sales were 40 per cent down in volume in the beverage sector and at least 20,000 workers had to be sent home, even if temporarily, during lockdown. Manufacturing, which reopened to full strength about a month ago, would have only brought back in about 3,000 people. The largest proportion of workers in the sector would have been people working in bars and restaurants. And even when businesses reopen, it is likely to still be disproportionate.

“For every bar that operates there’s an average of two to four people working in each of those establishments so there has been a large impact on employment and social transfers.” Economic activity in terms of consumer demand will be just as drastic in terms of consumer confidence because people don’t know when the threat of the virus might end, even as the sector reopens.

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