By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
Atlantis yesterday said it has 1,200 guests ‘in-house’ ahead of Hurricane Irma’s arrival, less than half the number that ‘rode out’ Matthew with it almost a year ago.
Resort executives confirmed that the Paradise Island property has seen cancellations due to the Category Five storm, and stressed that the safety and security of guests and its 7,500 staff was “number one priority”. Some guests had also opted to check out early as expected.
Howard Karawan, Atlantis’s president and managing director, said in an e-mailed response to Tribune Business: “The safety and security of our guests, 7,500-plus associates and marine animals is our number one priority. With over 20 years of operating in the tropics, Atlantis is fully prepared to provide shelter and necessary provisions in instances where weather conditions take a serious turn.”
He added: “A year ago, during Hurricane Matthew, over 2,500 people were kept safe in our shelter with all provisions and, in the spirit of the Bahamas, even local entertainment. We continue to monitor Hurricane Irma closely, and can assure that no matter the outcome there will be the best possible care provided for those on-island. Guests and staff are updated in real time, as a result of Atlantis’ official Hurricane Preparedness Plan. Our thoughts and prayers are with all who are being affected as a result of the storm.”
The Ministry of Tourism said that as at yesterday afternoon, some 2,679 visitors remained in the Bahamas. Of that number, 2,500 are in Nassau/Paradise Island, some 30 in Grand Bahama and the remaining 149 on the Family Islands.
The majority of the latter, some 96, are international students and teachers at the Island School in Eleuthera. Six visitors to Harbour Island were due to leave yesterday, while another six in Abaco, 25 in Exuma and 10 in the Berry Islands will remain.
Joy Jibrilu, the Ministry of Tourism’s director-general, said: “Most of the southern islands are completely empty; the visitors have chosen to leave the island and go to safety. In the Central Bahamas, today we are trying to get visitors out in an orderly fashion; those who remain will be well looked after on the hotel property.
“For example, in Exuma, Sandals is committed to ensure the well-being of any guests who remain on their property. And, of course, as we come further north in our capital, Nassau/New Providence and Paradise Island, they’re used to the procedure, this process now, and the hotels do an excellent job of ensuring the well-being of their guests. We’re working with airlines to get additional airlift so that people who want to be flown out go out.”
Atlantis’s decision to remain open during Irma contrasts with the decision taken by its new ‘mega resort’ rival, Baha Mar, to close at end-of-business yesterday and order all guests to “evacuate”.
Scott Allen, general manager of the 1,800-room Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar, told visitors in a September 5 letter that they would have to leave the resort, and seek alternative accommodation locally, if unable to leave New Providence.
“Should the island be placed under a hurricane warning, we will require all guests to evacuate the property - either to local shelter or to evacuate the island,” Mr Allen wrote.
Robert Sands, Baha Mar’s senior vice-president of government and external affairs, told Tribune Business it had already arranged the early departure of “almost 100 per cent” of guests ahead of the Category Five ‘super storm’s potential strike.
He confirmed that Baha Mar was “suspending services” at “end of business” on Thursday because of Irma’s strength and size, describing the storm as an unprecedented event that had never been witnessed before in the Bahamas.
Mr Sands denied that Baha Mar’s “suspension of services” was odd when compared to normal industry practice.
“The reality is that no one in this region has experienced a hurricane of this magnitude,” Mr Sands told Tribune Business, “and the first and foremost goal of a hurricane preparedness programme is the safety and security of guests and associates [staff].
“It mirrors what’s happening, and what the Government is doing, with other islands as well. There’s no history of a storm of this magnitude and wind force strength.
“We’re implementing our company’s emergency response plan, and ensuring we certainly take care of our guests and ensure their safety, and then our associates.”