By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
Hundreds of hotel workers will be made redundant at the Memories Resort in Grand Bahama after the hotel operator, Sunwing, and its landlord, Hutchison Whampoa, failed to reach an agreement over hurricane restoration at the beachfront resort in Lucaya.
In January, Sunwing and the Government had agreed to co-invest sums to restore the damaged Memories property for reopening. However, Sunwing reported that after it had “sought consent by the hotel owners for restoration, regrettably the owner attempted to impose exorbitant conditions that were totally unacceptable to Sunwing”.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Sunwing said that it was required to vacate the Memories Resort premises on January 29, and is now making arrangements to pay out applicable redundancy pay for its employees in the coming days. Informed sources suggested the number of jobs to go was around 400.
The Sunwing statement in full reads:
"In 2013, the Sunwing Travel Group forged a partnership with the Government of The Bahamas and in 2014 began to operate the Memories Grand Bahama Beach & Casino Resort on Grand Bahama Island. Concurrently with Sunwing’s opening of the Memories Resort, Sunwing began weekly flight service from eight cities in Canada and daily flights from a variety of US cities in the ensuing summer.
"The opening of the 492-room Resort coupled with Sunwing’s tour operator and airlift support, led to the revitalization of the Grand Bahama tourist economy, over 100,000 incremental tourists annually arriving on new flying programs from Canada and the Eastern United States, the creation of over 1500 jobs on the Island, and an annual economic contribution exceeding US $140 Million.
"On October 6th of 2016, Hurricane Matthew caused significant damage to the Memories Resort and forced its closure. Despite an immediate response from Sunwing Travel Group and the Government of The Bahamas to secure alternative accommodations, protect flying, and expedite the necessary repairs, the Hotel’s owner, Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, did not agree to requests to restore the Memories.
"Since this event, the Sunwing Travel Group has taken on the significant financial burden of compensating and re-protecting customers as well as running an air program with limited accommodation options as a demonstration of goodwill and commitment to the people of Grand Bahama Island. In January, it was reported in the Bahamian press that the Government and Sunwing had agreed to co-invest sums to restore the Memories and secure its earliest reopening. Sunwing sought the hotel Owner’s consent for such restoration but regrettably, the Owner attempted to impose exorbitant conditions that were totally unacceptable to Sunwing and would be to any other potential tenant.
"The Sunwing Travel Group is very proud of the partnership it has forged with the Government and the people of Grand Bahama and very saddened to report that we were required to vacate the Memories Resort premises on January 29, 2017. Accordingly, we are making arrangements to pay out applicable redundancy pay for our employees and will be reaching out to our employees in the coming days.
"Sunwing intends to continue supporting Grand Bahama Island and its tourism economy, including its hotels, through its tour operators, Sunwing Vacations and US-based Vacation Express as well as by continuing its airlift programs from Canada and from the United States in the summer, subject to conditions we are discussing with Government.
"We are also pleased to advise that as part of our ongoing commitment to Grand Bahama and its people, we are already developing plans in concert with the Government to return to Grand Bahama Island as a hotel operator and are optimistic that we will be in a position to announce details shortly. We are very appreciative for the support we’ve received from the Government and the wonderful people of Grand Bahama. Thank you for your continued support and understanding."