By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Atlantis has delayed its phased re-opening until June 25 after informing staff over the holiday weekend that it is "unable to announce a definitive date at this time".
The Paradise Island mega resort has pushed back plans to re-open the Royal Towers, and associated amenities, by ten days just two weeks after unveiling June 15 as the target date.
Atlantis spokespersons did not respond to Tribune Business messages seeking comment before press time last night, but in updates to guests posted on its website over the holiday weekend, Atlantis conceded that while it is now targeting June 25 this date cannot be set in stone due to ongoing uncertainty over when The Bahamas will open its still-closed borders to international travel.
"Atlantis Paradise Island resort is temporarily closed from Wednesday, March 25, through Sunday, June 24, 2020," the mega resort told already-booked guests and potential visitors. "While we don't have a firm date yet, Atlantis is targeting June 25 for a phased reopening. The exact date is contingent on critical decisions such as lifting travel restrictions to and from The Bahamas."
This was echoed in a May 29, 2020, letter to Atlantis staff which has been obtained by Tribune Business. "As we continue to navigate the uncharted waters of the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertainty abounds," the missive, unsigned but on Atlantis-headed paper, said.
"When we first closed the resort in March, we were hopeful that we would be able to reopen quickly. However, given the severity of the pandemic, we now know that was not possible. Although we are moving closer to reopening, unfortunately we are not able to announce a definitive date at this time."
Dr Hubert Minnis previously said the Government was seeking to re-open The Bahamas' borders to international commercial flights "on or before July 1", a date which is now less than a month away. His office, as the "Competent Authority" overseeing the COVID-19 emergency powers, yesterday gave the go-ahead for domestic inter-island aviation to resume with effect from next Monday, June 8.
However, The Bahamas' borders remain firmly shut for the moment. Dionisio D'Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, yesterday indicated the Government will assess whether it can accommodate Atlantis's wishes for an earlier re-opening than July 1.
"They are anxious to get up and running earlier," he told Tribune Business. "We'll have to see whether we can accommodate them." The delay, and revised Atlantis re-opening date, comes as Ministry of Tourism and Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) executives today plan to reveal details of their plan to re-open the country's largest industry and major source of foreign exchange.
Health protocols and measures to ensure the safety of both foreign visitors and industry staff are likely to be unveiled, as well as the strategy for marketing The Bahamas as a safe, relatively COVID-19 free destination to millions of Americans, Canadians and Europeans still reeling from the devastation the virus has inflicted on their own health and populations.
Atlantis, meanwhile, in its guest update branded the resort's closure "a business decision based on The Government of The Bahamas announcement on March 24, 2020, to close all borders and ports of entry and implement strict measures to contain the spread of COVID-19".
And its staff letter revealed that the Paradise Island-based mega resort is "exploring all avenues" to provide further financial assistance to thousands of its temporarily laid-off staff after the first tranche came to an end over the weekend.
"During the closure period we have done everything possible to ease your concerns," Atlantis told its near-8,000 workers. "As previously communicated, the ex-gratia payment that you have been receiving will come to an end on May 31.
"We understand this may create additional hardship for you and your families. And you can be confident that we are exploring all avenues to lessen your burden." Atlantis previously put into effect plans to pay staff up to 50 percent of their base salaries for the first 60 days following the closure.
Workers who were members of the hotel union's bargaining unit received an "ex-gratia" payment funded via the industry's Health and Welfare trust fund, while all full-time, non-union team members gained a weekly payment equivalent to 50 percent of their base pay.
On a brighter note, Atlantis informed staff that had extended their health insurance coverage until July 31, 2020, "at which time we will evaluate our options and communicate further".
The letter added: "There are many global and national uncertainties that hinder us from providing you with a return to full operations. But be assured we are making every effort to return to normalcy as soon as possible. We pray for a rapid recovery to our business, and wish you safety and good health as we work together through these challenges."