By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Club Med yesterday told Tribune Business it had postponed the re-opening of its San Salvador resort by two months until December 20 to allow for Hurricane Joaquin repairs, a move described as “a very serious event” for the island’s economy.
The resort operator, in a statement sent to this newspaper, said Columbus Isle’s planned re-opening had been pushed back from October 18 to just before Christmas 2015 due to the damage inflicted by the Category Four storm’s 130 mile per hour winds.
Apart from damage to the hotel itself, Club Med indicated that the devastation inflicted on San Salvador’s airport, utilities and communications infrastructure also played a role in its postponement decision.
It added that the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) had informed it that repairs to San Salvador’s energy infrastructure would take three to five weeks to complete.
“The Columbus Isle resort was scheduled to reopen on October 18. In order to ensure our guests have the highest level of service and comfort, we have taken the decision to revise the reopening date to December 20, 2015,” Club Med said.
“We are also working with local government agencies to assess the status of electricity, water, telecommunications, fuel and transportation services on San Salvador......
“The initial estimate that BEC gave us to repair the power generation facility on San Salvador is three to five weeks.”
No guests were present at Club Med when Joaquin hit because it was in its annual closed period. Just a few staff and suppliers were on-site, and none were injured in the storm.
“We are currently assessing the impact of the storm to the resort and the infrastructure on the island,”Club Med reiterated. “We are sending a team to the resort to assess the impact and provide a timeframe for making any necessary repairs.
“Fortunately, our preliminary assessment indicates that the resort, which was built to withstand hurricane winds, did not incur significant structural damage. However, as is typical in this type of storm, there was damage to the exterior roofs, including lost shingles and waterproof membrane. In addition, there was minor water intrusion in some areas. The beautiful landscaping, including hundreds of palm trees, was badly damaged.”
Club Med’s delayed re-opening is a shattering blow to San Salvador’s residents and economy, as it is the primary employer on the island with several hundred staff. It also generates most of the spin-off activity and business opportunities on San Salvador.
Joaquin is thus likely to cost San Salvador several million dollars in lost economic activity, on top of the damage it has caused, with employees losing two months’ worth of potential tips. Earnings at other businesses will also be down.
Club Med is the largest private sector asset to be directly impacted by Joaquin, which also brought massive storm surges and flooding.
Kenwood Kerr, chief executive of Providence Advisors, told Tribune Business that Club Med’s two-month delayed opening highlighted how “fragile” the Bahamian economy was, and its exposure to natural disasters.
A native of nearby Cat Island, he told Tribune Business: “Any kind of delay like that for a property of that magnitude, and which has such significance in the local economy, is a very serious event.”
Mr Kerr added that the situation would cause “some hardship, with Club Med employees facing the prospect of being “furloughed or potentially leaving” from the resort.
Expressing hope that staff could be put to work in the clean-up and rebuilding at Club Med, Mr Kerr said most San Salvador residents and businesses “make a living” off the resort even if not directly employed.
“They’re the single largest employer,” he added. “That’s a very serious concern, as there’s not a lot of activity otherwise. All the businesses that lived off Club Med are going to be negatively impacted.”
The absence of incoming tourists will hit the likes of taxi drivers and dive operators, and Mr Kerr said Club Med’s move would require San Salvador residents to adjust their Christmas plans.
“I grieve for my fellow Bahamians in the southern Bahamas, not only in Cat Island and San Salvador, but all the other islands that have been hit,” he told Tribune Business.
“It shows how fragile our economy is in that a natural disaster could impact an entire community.”
Mr Kerr said boutique resorts, hotels and small businesses on the islands of Long Island, Rum Cay, Acklins, Crooked Island and San Salvador had also taken a beating.
Elsewhere, the Flying Fish Marina in Clarence Town, Long Island, expressed optimism that it would be able to resume operations “within a week”.
Wendy Elder, its US representative, said in an e-mail to the Marina Operators of the Bahamas (MOB) that while the marina had sustained some damage, the operator’s main concern was for the losses suffered by employees and their difficulties in getting to work.
After flying into Long Island herself, Ms Elder said: “The marina did sustain some damage; nothing that should keep us closed down for too long.
“We did have some dock damage, but they are intact and we have all our fuel cabinets in place. Of course we won’t know for sure what we are dealing with until we get power, but we are trying to work on getting our generator up and functioning so we can be almost 100 per cent operational. “
She added: “Most of the buildings did receive some damage, but in the general overview of the property we faired better than most and with any luck we should be up and running soon.
“The overall assessment of the area from what I saw was utter devastation, and people are without even the basic needs. Even making your way down the roads is a challenge since most of the areas are either flooded by water or covered with power/utility lines, or power poles and debris.
“Our biggest hurdle now is just getting the manpower in to help with that. Not only do our own employees have their own lives and issues to deal with, most can’t even make their way to the marina due to the roads.
“It is a mess, and hopefully they will start to get some support on the ground to assist in rebuilding the infrastructure otherwise it will take forever for people to get back on their feet.”