By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The hotel union's president says the hoped-for "domino effect" from Atlantis announcing its July 7 re-opening has failed to materialise after Baha Mar delayed its own comeback and warned of "staff reductions" to come.
Darrin Woods, the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union's (BHCAWU) president, told Tribune Business that the prospects for a rapid post-COVID tourism rebound are "starting to look kind of grim" after the Cable Beach mega resort postponed its return to the market until October 2020.
Voicing fears for the welfare of union members at the Melia Nassau Beach resort, which is also owned by Baha Mar's proprietor, Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE), Mr Woods said he had hoped Atlantis' early re-opening would have convinced other major Bahamian resort properties to follow suit.
That possibility has suffered a major dent, though, with Sandals having also announced that its Cable Beach resort - located just down the road from Baha Mar on West Bay Street - will also not re-open until guests until November 1.
This means that two major drivers of the Bahamian tourism industry, the country's largest sector upon which it depends heavily for jobs and foreign exchange earnings, will not come online for some months. Not only does this illustrate the difficulties associated with restarting the tourism industry to coincide with the July 1 borders re-opening, it also exposes how economic activity and employment will remain depressed for much of 2020.
"We are very concerned," Mr Woods told this newspaper of Baha Mar's delayed re-opening. "Everything broke late on Friday evening, so we're trying to get a handle on what's going on. We're trying to get a handle on what's going on. We're bracing for the worst. Right now I'm almost lost for words to be honest..... Now I know how boxers feel in the ring.
"It's starting to look kind of grim. Atlantis is the only one saying so far that they will open on July 7. My hope was that Atlantis saying July 7 would cause a domino effect in a positive direction, but it seems other properties are going to hold off for whatever reason until October-November. You can appreciate it's still a fluid situation."
Mr Woods spoke out after Graeme Davis, Baha Mar's president, in a Friday letter to the mega resort's more than 5,000 staff warned that the continuing uncertainties around the still-evolving COVID-19 pandemic had forced the push back of its planned re-opening to an unspecified date in October.
Blaming this move on "many variables", which were not detailed, Mr Davis's letter hinted that guest bookings/business levels for the three-month July to September period, which traditionally coincides with the slowest part of the tourism calendar, were simply not sufficient to justify re-opening Baha Mar given that financial losses would likely result. The rise in COVID-19 infections in key tourism source markets, such as Florida, appears to be another concern.
"We will continue to monitor the impact COVID-19 and the economic downturn is having on the United States, as well as the willingness of our guests to travel, as we set the stage for a successful re-opening," Mr Davis wrote. "I understand that this is disappointing news after weeks of uncertainty. I personally feel a tremendous sense of disappointment as well."
Promising that Baha Mar would seek to recall as many staff as possible when it re-opens, Mr Davis warned employees that the mega resort will cut its workforce at June-end to ensure staffing numbers are better aligned with expected business volumes upon the eventual re-opening.
Noting that Baha Mar had committed to supporting all staff for 90 days following the resort's COVID-19 enforced shutdown, the Baha Mar chief warned that this period will soon expire. "As we near the end of this 90-day period, we will be making additional staffing reductions to align staffing levels with projected business volume upon re-opening," Mr Davis added.
Mr Woods, meanwhile, said the hotel union had been unsuccessful to-date in trying to arrange a meeting with Melia's management to discover its re-opening plans. With no date given by the resort, Mr Woods said he had hoped the government's move to increase the 13-week deadline after which furloughed employees have to be terminated would give the hotel industry sufficient breathing room to be able to hold off on such action.
"Melia never really gave a date for their reopening," the union chief added. "We said we need to know what's going on, but they said they would ride it out. I guess this is what riding it out means.
"All of this is going to have a negative domino effect on everything. If resorts don't open, people stay at home. This is going to translate directly into consumption and the stores they patronise. Hotel workers will not have money to go into those stores and patronise those businesses."
Reiterating that it was "vital" and "paramount" to the wider Bahamian economy's well-being to restart the tourism industry, Mr Woods conceded that the rising level of COVID-19 infections in key US source markets such as Florida represents a growing threat to these plans.
"Everything is still tied to the travelling public having confidence to travel," he added. "A couple of US states are now moving to go back to stay-at-home orders because of the spike in cases. That's a concern, too. You don't want people travelling from places where there is a spike on cases and coming here."