'Double Whammy'

Regional

'Double Whammy'

COVID-19 hands JUTA Falmouth Chapter members another blow

BY MARK CUMMINGS
Editor-at-Large
cummingsm@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, April 02, 2020

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FALMOUTH, Trelawny -President of the Jamaica Union of Travellers (JUTA) Falmouth Chapter Dawn Henry has described the fallout in the ground transportation subsector, due to COVID-19, as “the most devastating thing” the sector has ever faced.

“It is the most devastating thing that I have ever encountered of all of my years at JUTA. It is the worse the industry [tourism] had ever faced,” said Henry, who has been associated with the chapter for over two decades.

She noted that a few weeks before the first case of the coronavirus was confirmed on the island, her members, which number over 100, were negatively impacted by poor weather conditions which prevented a number of cruise ships with thousands of passengers, to dock at the Falmouth cruise ship pier.

“Prior to COVID-19, we had a fallout in terms of bad weather, so we were suffering before COVOD-19. For one week alone, we lost about six or seven ships because of bad weather,” said Henry, the first female president of the nearly 40-year-old male-dominated chapter.

“We stood there, watched the ships come into harbour and unable to dock, so we have been suffering from the latter part of January coming up to now, so it has been very, very challenging for most of our drivers.”

Henry, who has been leading the chapter since 2014, stressed that many of her members are facing financial difficulties.

“ A lot of our members have bank loans, a lot owes insurance companies, persons are yet to process their applications for road licences, and TPDCo [Tourism Product Development Company] licences…. and with this level of uncertainty, it's really tough,” she told the Jamaica Observer West.

She is encouraging members who have savings to spend wisely during “this period of great uncertainty.”

“I am encouraging them that the little they have, they should try and pencil it out properly, because we don't know at what stage in time that this industry will be back on its feet. From speaking to other persons, they are looking at another three to four months, and that might be for us here in Jamaica, but at this time we don't know how the other countries will fear out,” she argued.

She stressed that many of her drivers are worried and fearful of the future.

“They don't know their next move, because they have no area to look to…… the hotels are closed, the ports are closed….. nothing, and most of them have their families to take care of, it's really bad,” Henry bemoaned.

She urged her members who have financial obligations to contact their bankers in a bid to reschedule their loans, while those who have “a little land should try planting some crops, because there is nothing else to do.”

Desmond Simpson, owner Simtours Ultimate Travel, who is also a JUTA Falmouth Chapter member, said his fleet, consisting of about 25 vehicles, has been grounded since last week. This, he said, has resulted in him laying off about 20 employees.

“Right now it's just survival. I can only survive off now what I would have probably put aside for rainy days. I am just into surviving right now, there is nothing more I can do than to just try to live off the little savings that I have,” he told the Observer West.

Simpson said he has already contacted his bankers who have decided to give him a three- month moratorium on his loans, stressing that “because I would not like for them to take the little savings that I have to pay bank loans.”

Simtours Ultimate Travel transports guests mainly from the cruise ship terminal in Falmouth on excursions, as well as airport transfers. Some of the vehicles also transport hotel workers from properties in St James and Trelawny to various destinations in those parishes.

For Adrian “Don” McKenzie, a member of the JUTA Falmouth Chapter for 18 years, the existing situation could not have been worse.

He shared with the Observer West his financial obligations at the bank and the dilemma that he faces.

“This thing [COVID-19] has a big effect on me. Right now all of the three buses are parked, I owe the bank for two of them, so I have loans. Right now, I have no options because all I know is how to transport tourists, so right now I am hoping and praying that things will soon come back to normal and hope that the government can help up through this turbulent time,” he wailed.

Another JUTA Falmouth Chapter driver, who requested anonymity, told the Observer West that the shutting down of the tourism sector, due to COVID-19, has dealt him a severe blow.

“ Right now mi feel like a fish out a water, mi don't know where to turn, mi have mi family to take care of, an mi not working, mi stressed and depressed right now,” said the seemingly frustrated elderly driver.

Last month, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett announced that Government is to provide financial assistance to workers in the tourism sector who have been negatively impacted by the fallout in the industry.

The details and level of assistance are yet to be known, said Henry.

“The Minister of Tourism said the Government will be giving some assist to contractors and operators, how it will happen, how much, I don't know, but hopefully by the end of the week we will hear,” she said.

She expressed hope however, that the sector will bounce back and return to its former glory days.

McKenzie too, is hoping that the sector, which raked in some US$3.7 billion to the economy from the 4.3 million arrivals last year, will get back on its feet, hopefully in the near future.

“Until them, mi can only hope and pray,” he emphasised.

According to the Ministry of Health and Wellness, up to Tuesday, there were 38 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the island, with two deaths.

Up to March 31, the disease had sickened more than 851,000 persons and has accounted for over 42,000 deaths globally.


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