Skopje, 20 April 2021 (MIA) — Carrying banners saying “No BBQ, No Peace” and “Can You?”, travel and hospitality workers held their first in a series of planned protests in front of the Ministry of Finance between noon and 7 pm, asking for one-time stimulus payments to help their businesses — some closed for almost 14 months — stay afloat.
Protesters included tour guides, travel agents, wedding venue and indoor playhouse owners as well as other Chamber of Tourism and Hospitality members.
According to its vice president Martin Angelovski, many of them will lose their jobs if the state does not provide their businesses with timely assistance.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, he said, the hospitality industry has had to work under various restrictions – or not at all.
“We have built our businesses from the ground up and supported our families by honest work. Now, through no fault of our own, we cannot work, which jeopardizes not only the future of our businesses and employees but also our families’ livelihoods,” Angelovski pointed out.
Calling on the ruling party to recall their election slogan “We Can!” and show they can help when help is needed, he reiterated that travel and hospitality workers are requesting one-time financial assistance for all registered hospitality establishments and one-time financial help for businesses banned from their primary activity for a year.
They also request that existing loans be reprogrammed and their grace period extended by the commercial banks and Development Bank until they start working without restrictions.
According to Angelovski, new cheap loans are not the help they are asking for. “It is just additional borrowing for us,” he said, adding that their businesses need the state to help them cover the rent and other costs accumulated during the work ban.
Ana Marija Aleksova, a travel agent, said many travel agencies have already had to close their businesses due to the lack of state support.
“What happens to the people when the agencies close and when they are left on the street?” Aleksova asked. “What happens to the debts of those closed travel agencies? Isn’t every human destiny and every company, no matter how big or small, important?”
Travel agencies are asking for a one-time stimulus payment. They also insist that the state-sponsored vouchers issued to boost domestic tourism should be used exclusively through travel agencies.
In addition, they are requesting that the December 2021 deadline for any unused vouchers be extended until December 2022.
Dimitar Kavrakov, a representative of the Association of Tourist Guides, said tourist guides seemed to be abandoned by the state.
“They included us guides in the fourth [stimulus] package, but in the fifth package, they forgot about us,” Kavrakov said. “We have been placed at the margins of society even though some of us have families to support.”
Trajko Nikolovski, president of the Macedonian Chambers of Commerce’s Entertainment and Recreational Activities Group, said that because of the pandemic, people lost interest in celebrating their children’s birthdays at indoor trampoline parks and playgrounds.
“Our businesses have not been open for almost 14 months, and without help, our companies will disappear,” Nikolovski said.
The protests continue tomorrow from noon until 7 pm, an hour before curfew. They are planned to be held until the protesters’ demands are met. mr/