Business has been slow at the Crafts Alive Village (above) and other shops across the territory since the start of the pandemic. Twenty percent of businesses that responded to a November BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association survey reported an “extremely negative impact” from the pandemic and related restrictions. (Photo: CLAIRE SHEFCHIK)

Twenty percent of about 50 businesses that responded to a November survey from the BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association reported an “extremely negative impact” from the Covid-19 pandemic on their finances to the point of near-closure or closure, among other findings.

“It didn’t think it was going to be so high, but that in itself was alarming to know that 20 percent of the businesses had to shut down. … That’s really a sad number to see,” said BVICCHA President of Business Kevin Fahie of Caribbean Cellars, though he added that since the survey was carried out before borders reopened, another survey done in the first quarter of this year might paint a different picture.

An additional 57 percent of businesses reported a “high” negative impact, the survey found. Twenty percent reported a medium impact and six percent a low impact.

In a Facebook livestream late last month presenting the results, BVICCHA Executive Director Keiyia Jackson- George said that for the purposes of the survey, a “high im- pact” meant that the pandemic “has significantly affected our financial performance, and we are barely holding on, but we have not yet closed.”

“And then there was an ‘extremely negative impact’ where, in essence, the business has had to close,” she said.

Revenue losses

Forty-three percent of respondents reported losing between 76 and 100 percent of revenue. Another third lost 51 to 75 percent of revenue; 19 percent lost 26 to 50 percent; and five percent lost one to 25 percent.

The board praised businesses for trying to retain employees during hard times, noting that 26 percent of respondents reported having made no layoffs.
“This has been one of the cries of many of our members and non-members alike, where they’re trying to maintain staff, even by just reducing their hours or number of days that they’re working just to try to give them some type of pay, even though they have major cancellations or ab-olutely no revenue coming in whatsoever,” Ms. Jackson-George explained.

However, nearly one third of businesses (29 percent) laid off up to 25 percent of their employees, 24 percent laid off 51 to 75 percent of employees, five percent laid off 26 to 50 percent, and 14 percent laid off 76 to 100 percent of their employees.

Health precautions

Despite the economic impacts, the BVICCHA was puzzled by responses that showed that only 48 percent of businesses were requiring face masks of their customers on the premises, and just 29 percent were restricting in- person gatherings over a certain number — measures that both are required by public health legislation that was passed to control and suppress the virus.

“How could that be 48 percent? It should be 100 percent,” Mr. Fahie said. “Every customer who comes into your establishment should be wearing a face mask. … That really grinds my gears.”

Ms. Jackson-George, how- ever, speculated that confusion about the question may have caused inaccurate responses.

More impacts

Businesses reported multiple impacts as a result of the pandemic, with 71 percent reporting an overall decrease in sales and 62 percent reporting that they had restricted spending.

Forty-three percent accumulated debt, 29 percent reduced employees’ hours, 10 percent reported an interrupted supply chain, 10 percent reported employees working remotely, five percent reported reduced product lines, and five percent reported a corporate restructuring or transformation. Ms. Jackson-George noted that for hospitality businesses, a major challenge will be to cover refunds for cancellations.

“Another issue that a lot of our businesses that have bookings are trying to avoid is being sued, because they may not have the money to refund because, again, they’ve been carrying staff … or paying bills all year.”

She noted that government’s response to the pandemic has also played a large role in how well businesses can weather the storm, and the VI government’s reviews came in largely negatively, with 43 percent of respondents reporting “a very poor approach” to the reopening of the territory.

Twenty-nine percent rated government’s response “good,” 19 percent “very good,” and 10 percent “poor.”

Ms. Jackson-George noted that the survey was conducted in November, shortly before the reopening of the borders and the subsequent criticism of government’s reopening protocols. Mr. Fahie spoke similarly.

“After coming out and trying to get the borders open, I could see … a lot of businesses still had a lot of questions, especially the marine sector,” he said. “Dates are being set but no information is being told to them about the dates that are being set. … What are their requirements?”

Seventy-six percent of the respondents were from Tortola, 10 percent from Jost Van Dyke, 10 percent from Virgin Gorda, and five percent provided no

The most common industry represented was hospitality, with 14 percent personal services, 14 percent marine, 14 percent recreation and leisure; and the industries of technology; arts and culture; trades and repair; lodging; transportation; construction representing five percent each. Another five percent did not respond to the question.

Cries for help

The survey also discussed what is worrying businesses and their demands from government in terms of support.

A reduction in the volume of bureaucratic regulations and red tape proved the most popular response, at 71 percent of businesses expressing a desire for it.

One third of businesses requested a commercial rent moratorium, and 14 percent asked for incentives for capital investment. More than two-thirds (67 percent) requested more financial support for businesses.

Ms. Jackson-George noted that not all qualifying businesses have received their grant cheques as part of the stimulus package unveiled last year.

“With the borders still not fully open, businesses still need support,” she said. “We all hear what’s being said and we know people are hurting.”