By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Exuma’s economy will suffer a two-month “drag” as a result of Sandals Emerald Bay’s decision to close until December 15 to undergo hurricane repairs.
Pedro Rolle, the Exuma Chamber of Commerce president, told Tribune Business yesterday that the island’s largest employer accounts for “a huge portion” of its economic activity.
Apart from the hundreds of workers directly employed at Sandals Emerald Bay, Mr Rolle said the resort provides the majority of economic “spin-off” benefits for the island’s entrepreneurs and self-employed, such as car rental companies and taxi drivers.
And, while the two-month closure was “not devastating to the point it will kill the economy”, Mr Rolle said the timing was “very bad” given that Exumians required an income to finance essential Hurricane Matthew repairs.
Sandals, in a statement issued yesterday, said the Emerald Bay property - Exuma’s ‘anchor project’ - would re-open on December 15, given that it “requires more extensive repairs than initial estimates” projected following Hurricane Matthew’s passage.
Confirming that the Sandals release, and news of Emerald Bay’s closure, had already begun to circulate widely in Exuma, Mr Rolle said the next two months would be “very slow” economically.
“Even though it’s a relatively short period of time in terms of the local economy, and most of the people working there are not making a lot of money, they need their salary every week,” Mr Rolle told Tribune Business.
“It will definitely have a negative impact, not only for the persons who work there, but all the spin-offs. That’s a huge portion of what the taxi drivers make, and because of Sandals we have Delta Airlines and American Airlines.”
Mr Rolle said the all-inclusive property was thus responsible for generating both the bulk of Exuma’s economic output, both directly and indirectly, and the amount of money circulating throughout the island’s communities.
“Without that happening, we’re going to do almost to a drag for the next two months,” he explained. “It’s going to be a very slow time in Exuma for that period.
“The spin-offs from Sandals being open, and the flights and visitors coming in, that’s more impactful than Sandals employing persons to work in the actual resort.
“This adds up in a big way. We’re going to feel it. The next couple of months are going to be a slow time in Exuma, but it’s not devastating to the point it will kill the economy. It’s only a short period of time, and at least people know and can plan for it.”
However, the two-month closure will deprive Sandals employees and others on Exuma of all, or a substantial part, of their incomes at a critical time.
The Emerald Bay property’s shuttering includes both the run-up to Christmas and the Thanksgiving season, plus the period when residents will be seeking to repair the damage caused by Matthew’s winds and flooding/storm surges.
“It’s happening at a time when people need their salaries the most,” Mr Rolle conceded. “This is a time when, because of the hurricane, there are all sorts of repairs to be done. People need their incomes.”
While Exuma had been spared the worst of Matthew’s wrath, Mr Rolle said repairs were still required to many roofs, and also to mitigate minor flood damage.
“It’s happening at a very bad time for the Exuma economy really,” Mr Rolle told Tribune Business. “But we’ll survive.”
Jeremy Mutton, Sandals Emerald Bay’s general manager, was said to be in a meeting when Tribune Business called, and did not return this newspaper’s messages seeking comment before press time.
Sandals’ statement said of the closure: “We recognise the inconvenience this presents, but we are committed to delivering the quality Sandals experience our guests expect and deserve.
“Guests affected by the closure of Sandals Royal Bahamian and Sandals Emerald Bay have one year to travel to the same resort at no additional cost for the resort stay.
“Those wishing to travel to a different Sandals or Beaches Resort may do so at no additional cost for the resort when travel is completed by December 20, 2016,” it added.
“All air penalties and fees will be covered by Sandals for revisions made by October 31, 2016. Blackout dates apply.”
The air penalties and fees will be covered by Unique Vacations (UVI), an affiliate of Sandals Resorts.
“When we reopen, it will be right,” said Tammy Gonzalez, UVI’s chief executive.