2021 Members of the DHTA executive
2021 Members of the DHTA executive

As tourism stakeholders grapple with the temporary paralysis of the sector brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, re-elected President of the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association (DHTA), Hans Schilders says, in a cash-strapped economy, the announcement of a minimum wage increase effective September 1, 2021, come at a time when the DHTA is faced with many financial hurdles.

Schilders statement came at the association's 52nd Annual General Meeting (AGM) held under the theme "Meeting the Members Expectations".

The DHTA President said that from the onset of the pandemic, the tourism sector has come to an almost temporary standstill and, as a result, there have been major losses in revenue for members.

Schilders stated the association has been steadfast in its efforts to assist DHTA affiliates but "We have big financial challenges, but very little income."

"You members paid your membership dues, thank you very much. But sponsors were not interested in putting sponsor money in a market where there was no money to spend. We couldn't do events, we had a tiny little Hike Fest this year compared to other years, we couldn't do tours that normally bring money in so with reduced income, we had to reduce office expenses."

He revealed that the association has been working on the formation of a new standards committee, particularly which will, among other things, address the challenges that will arise from the minimum wage increase.

"At the moment, we're working together with the Dominica Association of Industry and Commerce (DAIC) and even with the Dominica Manufacturers Association (DMC) on the minimum wage increase. We need some support from the government to move forward with that. We like that people can make more money, but we don't have that money to pay at the moment," Schilders said.

He stated financial stability is among the main goals for the DHTA in its new fiscal year to continue serving its members.

"We are a private sector organization; we want to represent the interests of the entrepreneurs in this sector. We work with the government and we want to continue working with them but we have to make sure that our companies are viable, that we can survive, that we can try and that we can make a reasonable profit to make it for the long term."

Now mid-2021, and despite its challenges, Schilders said the DHTA looks forward with hope as there are signs of recovery.

"We have a plan, it's called "Friends of the DHTA" and it's a fresh new member approach to sponsorship. Yes, it's a win-win, a win for the membership, and a win for the partners and friends that we want to work with. We want to work with providers who will understand that our businesses need more business, better business, sustainable business." Schilders said the association is in the process of establishing a non-profit tourism enhancement fund, which will include all stakeholders in the industry to improve the sector.

Meantime, Chief Executive Officer of the Dominica Air and Sea Port Authority (DASPA), Benoit Bardouille who presented on behalf of the Minister of Tourism, Denise Charles, told members the ministry is seeking to reinforce its partnership with the DHTA.

According to Bardouille, great strides were made throughout the pandemic to assist the sector such as the Safe in Nature Programme, and gave the assurance that more campaigns and partnerships are on the way to assist tourism stakeholders including new flights from Caribbean Airlines and the direct flight from Miami scheduled for December.

"On the marketing end, a global campaign in our nature has been launched with a focus on the five-term pillars: Aqua tourism, agritourism, adventure, health and wellness, and festivals and events. More campaigns are also being developed, such as "My Dominica Bucket List" and the Dominica Fitness Challenge, and a special campaign from the Trinidad market, "You Deserve It."

Bardouille pledged the support of the ministry.

"We anticipate that the benefits of open dialogue will outweigh the challenges of miscommunication. We all have the same expectation and hope, a vibrant tourism sector," he said.

The 2021/22 Board of Directors of the DHTA includes President Hans Schilders; Avril Coipel 1st Vice President; President-Elect, Director of Finance Elijah Leblanc; Hervé Nizard, Director of Accommodation; Director of Public Relations, Monique Jacob; David Thornhill, Director of Membership; Director of Tourism Service, Alice James; Cynthia Talbert, Director of Related Services; Immediate Past President, Marvlyn Alexander James; and Colin Piper, Discover Dominica Authority.