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Hotel owners seek palliatives from Lagos State, fault ‘register to reopen’ policy

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Hotel Owners and Managers Association of Lagos (HOMAL), the umbrella body of hotel woners in the state, has called on the Lagos State Government to work out palliatives for its members as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking at a briefing held recently in Lagos, the chairman of the group, Chief Samuel Alabi, said hospitality sector deserves special interventions following the lockdown that kept all hotels under lock and key.

“No one could ever imagine that the economic activities will almost be totally grounded as from the month of March. In response to government lockdown policy, our members were compelled to cancel all confirmed bookings for rooms, banqueting, conferencing and related activities; decline further reservations of rooms, banqueting and conferencing events; place some of our workers out of duty and retain adequate numbers of staff to ensure safety of their property and maintain the equipment and machinery that could not be shut down for considerable long period of time.”

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Commending the Federal Government for the lifting of restriction on the operation of hotels and restaurants within the hotel, and pledging support to the state government intention to combat the spread of coronavirus in the state, the association frowned at the state government’s proposal regarding the reopening of hotels dubbed ‘Register to Reopen’.

“Our members are not willing to be subjected to rigorous bureaucratic and cost-laden reopening exercise. We propose that government should release reopening protocols as done for manufacturing, retail shops, banks and other sectors that were allowed even under the relaxed restriction regime for compliance by our members. Going by the large numbers of hotels in Lagos, many of our members feared that it will not come to their turn weeks after being granted permission to reopen their business. We hope government will accede to our request in the overall interest of the economic development of Lagos State,” Alabi said.

Chief Alabi reeled out the resultant effects this measure, including “contractual obligations, in form of continued financial exposure to employees emoluments and suppliers whose supplied items could not be used due to their perishable nature; continuous exposure to payment of utility bills, waste clearance bills etc; costs incurred in special cleaning and disinfecting of the rooms and premises and loss of revenue and inability to meet with various existing financial and costs of constant cleaning of the premises. As a major contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of many nations, Nigeria not being an exception, the sector had given a good account of its relevance in view of its strategic positions to the socio economic development of the state and Nigeria.”

Alabi stated that the hospitality industry is in the frontline sector in Lagos state, as hotels, restaurants and allied business have become major pivotal of economic activities in the state.

“It has, therefore, become important for the government to come to the aid of this most important sector to avert major economic upheavals. No doubt, hospitality sector is labour intensive. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, close to a million people were deriving income from our members business. Going by the large number of employees that could be affected by their paucity of funds, failure to receive government palliatives could result in massive job loss and resultant increase in crime rate in the state,” he said.

He, However, regretted that during the lockdown, manufacturing, banking and some other key sectors of the economy were allowed to continue in operations subject to certain guidelines, while all hotels and restaurants were mandated to close down. This abrupt closure, he pointed out, had engendered total loss of revenue on members’ part.

He explained that going by the provision of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and confirmed by Supreme Court, the regulation of hotels and allied business are within the competence of the state.

“While recognising that banking, manufacturing and many other sectors are no go areas for state revenue generation, Ministry of Tourism no longer exists at the federal level and therefore, the resuscitation and success of their members’ business now lies with the Lagos State Government.”

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To bring their members back to business, the association suggested that Lagos “should create Tourism Development Funds to asit with reopening expenses, repurchase existing loans that could not be serviced due to cessation of revenue from their business, deep cleaning and sanitisation, expand staff bus fleets to comply with social distancing in the vehicles, acquire walk –in – temperatures scanners, modify the association’s F&B and other guests’ service points, acquire more small operating equipment in line with modified service arrangements, to re-stock the operating items, staff training to meet the health and safety standard as may be required in view of the pandemic situation and purchase of safety kits and materials for the use of staff, guests and visitors.”

The group is also seeking the postponement of payment of Land use charge till 2021, while LAWMA charges should be suspended from March till end of the pandemic. Repayment of salaries paid to their employees or being owed them from March till when normalcy returns to the hospitality business climate, suspension of LASA Advertisements rates till 2021, refund of all utilities, internet and DSTV charges incurred during the pandemic period, suspension of hotel renewal fees till 2021, suspension of application of HOARC Tax till the end of the year.

“As from January 2021, the HOARC should be administered in the like manner of VAT whereby inputs would be allowed from the tax due, postponement of Safety Permit, Water regulatory fee, LASEPA Fees and charges and other state Government agencies levies and charges, direct the Local Government to suspend the collection of the following till 2021,” he said.

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