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'Better July Than 2019' Won't Cover $2m Covid Loss

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A Harbour Island hotelier yesterday revealed that while his resort may “ironically enjoy a better July than last year” it will not make up for the $2m lost during the COVID-19 lockdown,

Benjamin Simmons, proprietor of The Other Side and Ocean View properties, told Tribune Business he was presently at “100 percent occupancy” and had averaged around 70 percent since The Bahamas opened its borders to international travellers on July 1.

While had had been able to bring back all 45 full-time staff, Mr Simmons said he has been unable to recall 15-20 part-time staff because COVID-19 protocols have limited his restaurant to catering to just in-house guests to maintain social distancing.

He added that his properties had suffered around four cancellations as a result of being unable to obtain the negative PCR swab test required to enter The Bahamas in time to travel, especially during the period when the government narrowed the testing window to seven days, with most visitors booking within four days of their planned arrival in Harbour Island.

With “short-term bookings” the current norm for himself and many hoteliers, Mr Simmons said medium and long-term planning was virtually impossible. With August currently appearing flat, he added that he would “do what I can to stay open and keep people employed”, with the provision of pay cheques rather than the accumulation of profit the main objective.

“We are at 100 percent occupancy right now,” Mr Simmons told Tribune Business. “By and large we’re very thankful to have business and get our staff employed. We’re going to stay open as long as we can to keep them employed.

“It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. People are booking, but they’re booking four days out because they have to have the negative COVID-19 PCR test. We’ve averaged 70 percent occupancies since the reopening on July 1.

“This July might even be better than last year, ironically enough, but that’s no substitute for March, April and May unfortunately. We probably lost around $2m worth of business between the events and the hotels.”

Mr Simmons said he was able to provide staff with a stipend, and keep them occupied at the pandemic’s height, by operating a food bank over that ten-week period. While full-time staff had returned to work, he added that it was “unfortunately not so much” the case for part-time workers.

Most of these, he explained, worked in his restaurants which are operating at lower capacity due to the COVID-19 restrictions on social distancing. As for guest compliance with The Bahamas’ COVID-19 testing requirements, Mr Simmons added: “There was a lot of confusion when it went down to seven days and then back to ten days.

“We had about four cancellations in that period when people were not able to get the test in time. That’s probably been the only challenge. Everyone praised the government for the decisions they’ve made in halting the virus’ spread so far, and making the call for negative COVID-19 tests to enter.

“Most people are happy to comply with that requirement and whatever needs to be done to keep Bahamians safe and visitors safe, and keep on trucking. August is flat but, again, everyone is booking four days out. We saw it a week ago. We didn’t think we’d be full, and come Tuesday we were full for the weekend,” he continued.

“Short-term bookings appear to be the way it’s going. It’s week by week. We’ll try to stay open. Right now, if we can’t open in August we’ll go back to being closed, but we’re hoping to keep on going. We’ll try to attract domestic tourism and get folks down from Nassau and do what we can to keep people employed.”

Mr Simmons added that he and his staff “feel grateful for the opportunity” to be back at work, and said: “It’s not about making a profit right now. I don’t like people being put out of work by this pandemic. Let’s give them a pay cheque without jeopardising the business.”

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