Virus Effect: Unpaid Tour Operator Bills Threaten Caribbean Hotels Survival

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Several Caribbean hotels are calling on TUI Group and Sunwing to settle its debts in the region, which they say are threatening their survival.

The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) claims TUI is one of a handful of travel companies that have still to pay for services already received.

CHTA revealed in April that several of its 1,000 member hotels were owed millions of dollars by tour operators worldwide for services delivered in the first quarter of the year, with each hotel owed $219,000 on average.

Many were owed more than $1 million and one was owed $15 million.

While many tour operators have since settled their debts, CHTA head Frank Comito said he’d decided to name and shame those that were still refusing to pay up.

“Most tour operators honoured their obligations, and we’ve been pleased to see that a number of those who had delayed reimbursements have settled since our appeal in April,” said Comito, CHTA’s CEO and director-general.

“But millions of dollars in reimbursements remain obligated and are jeopardizing the hoteliers’ survival and ability to meet obligations, like taxes and labour expenses, because of the holdout by TUI and several other tour operators.”

Comito revealed he has written to TUI’s UK & Ireland MD Andrew Flintham urging the company to join its competitors in settling debts to Caribbean hotels, whose survival, said Comito, is under threat.

Comito also claimed that TUI has used the outstanding first quarter payments as leverage to persuade hotels in the region to accept more onerous payment terms for future contracts.

He said TUI’s alleged attempts to tie its proposed new payment terms to receiving the Q1 payments were ‘unreasonable’ and ‘untenable’.

“By failing to pay, TUI appears to be in breach of existing contractual obligations,” Comito said, adding that the ‘distressed’ hotels have been ‘longstanding loyal’ partners, directly contributing to the build of TUI’s Caribbean business.

Comito said he ‘noted with great interest’ the public apology Flintham made to clients who are also waiting to be reimbursed for cancelled holidays.

“While a similar sentiment would be appropriate to your loyal and long-standing partner hotels in the Caribbean … we urge your support in expediting the reimbursement of these obligations,” said Comito.

In April, CHTA wrote to trade associations representing tour operators in the UK, Canada, Europe and the United States to address the delays in paying hotels for services already delivered.

Comito said that despite numerous requests to publicly identify tour operators that were withholding reimbursements, the association had refrained from doing so ‘in the interest of long-standing, mutually beneficial relationships’.

However, he said that the failure to act expediently ‘left CHTA with no choice but to shine further light on the matter’.

In addition to TUI, Comito claimed the Canada-based tour operator Sunwing has also been cited by Caribbean hoteliers as still withholding payments.

“We have acted in good faith, as have those impacted hotels, in seeking and awaiting a timely resolution,” Comito said.

“This has become a matter of survival for many small- to medium-sized hotel operators in the Caribbean, many of which are independent and locally owned and have been loyal clients for many years to TUI and Sunwing.

“While we understand that the pandemic is impacting the tour operators in a significant way as well, their financial obligations for services already rendered should take urgent priority.”


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