In order to counteract the impact of COVID-19 on the country’s tourism sector, Government has agreed to implement a stimulus package known as the Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation (BEST) Plan.
Governor General Dame Sandra Mason, while delivering the Throne Speech to mark the Second Session of Parliament at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, stated that this “innovative solution” was developed in collaboration with the labour movement and the private sector in the industry.
The BEST Plan is the largest fiscal stimulus package being offered to the country at a maximum value of $300 million. The scheme for hotels and tourism facilities under the plan will primarily be distributed through investment in the companies by way of a class of shares that mirrors preference shares, and there will be some limited opportunities for grants.
The Governor General explained that the plan is intended to protect jobs; support the balance sheets of companies in the tourism sector and those of direct tourism services; to ensure that Barbados’ physical infrastructure remains fit for when some level of normalcy returns, and Barbados must be fully prepared for that moment.
The resources being offered within the plan will only be available if tourism numbers and revenues remain below the levels required for the survival of the sector, and a critical component would be the substantial upskilling of workers in the sector.
The training will be provided by the National Training Initiative to workers in the areas needed for their specific jobs, and also for softer skills that will be provided through citizenship education.
Three main features of the BEST Plan are:
- Government will make an investment in tourism firms which will enable these companies to re-engage all of their workers on 80 per cent of their normal salary for up to two years, should the need arise. Workers entering the scheme will not lose their existing rights to severance pay if they are laid off again at any point within the next 12 months.
- There must be a transformation of the tourism sector by committing to greening through water conservation and water harvesting measures where applicable, and the installation of renewable energy capacity, to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
- There is a requirement to review all processes, payments and systems to ensure their suitability in today’s world and where necessary, to undertake a digitisation of the same.
Dame Sandra said Government will support the last two features of the plan with the establishment of a dedicated Green and Digital Investment Fund for which firms that have re-engaged their workers will be eligible.
The Green and Digital Investment Fund and training will also be available to small businesses and to manufacturing and agricultural enterprises, provided that they too have retained a significant portion of their jobs. The sums available for investment and grant will be capped to ensure that as many entities as possible benefit.
The Tourism Sector accounts for 45 per cent of Barbados’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the tourism industry directly employs 15,000 workers and an estimated 32,000 workers in tourism-related jobs and services.