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Harbour Island's Top Employer In 'Heart-Break Blow'

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Harbour Island's "largest employer" yesterday said COVID-19 had dealt it a "heart-breaking blow" following a "stunning" January where room revenue was up 52 percent year-over-year.

Dean Spychalla, general director for Valentine's Resort and Marina, told Tribune Business that the global pandemic had struck just as the property appeared to rapidly be digging itself out of the "deep hole" created by negative Hurricane Dorian publicity.

He revealed that Valentine's had caught up to within two percent of 2019's revenue levels just "three weeks ago" before COVID-19 began the sudden, and immediate, shutdown of the Bahamian and global travel industry.

Confirming that all 100 persons employed by Valentine's and other businesses on the property have been sent home, apart from a skeleton staff, Mr Spychalla voiced concern that COVID-19's timing - during the peak winter season of February, March and April - will deprive many tourism-related businesses of the income they rely on to carry them through the slower parts of the year.

"All the hotels on the island are shut down, and all the restaurants in the hotels on the island are shut down," he confirmed. "There are a couple of boats left in our marina, but they're parked there. Nobody is coming in. We're not letting in any new arrivals. There are no services ancillary to the hotel, and that's for the foreseeable future."

Mr Spychalla added that COVID-19 appeared just as Valentine's and other resort properties were recovering from the "mighty blow" inflicted by Dorian, as resulting international media coverage deterred international travel to all unaffected Bahamian islands by giving the impression the entire country had been devastated.

He explained that business for the first two months of Valentine's fiscal year, which begins in November, was down against prior comparatives due to the Dorian fall-out. Yet Valentine's rebounded so quickly that Mr Spychalla revealed "three weeks or so back we were just 2 percent behind on revenue from the prior year, and last year was a record-breaking year".

The Valentine's chief told this newspaper: "For the first two months of the year we were in a deep hole because of Dorian. We got out of that, and were poised to have the best year we've ever had.

"We had a stunning January. My room revenue for January was up 52 percent versus January last year, and February was good. March is always our best month of the year, and we would have done as well this month as last year if it hadn't been for the coronavirus.

"It's a real blow, my goodness," Mr Spychalla added. "It's heart-breaking laying so many people off, and you don't know when you can put them back to work. We have no idea. Our resort, when we're open, the campus employs 100 people. That's the largest single employer on the island.

"Some 78 are employed directly by the resort, and 22 employees by the businesses that operate in the resort. That's the dive shop, the retail shop and the coffee shop. You're looking at 100 people we employ at peak times, and that's for much of the year. We carry that level of staff for eight months of the year, from mid-December to mid-August."

Mr Spychalla expressed concerns that the loss of much of the 2020 peak winter season would leave hotels and tourism-related businesses financially vulnerable given that recovery may not occur for some months.

"The difficulty now is these are the monies and resources you would earn to help you get through the slow season," he told Tribune Business. "That exacerbates the problem. Unless we have something of a recovery before August it's going to be a very long slow season. That's frightening.

"A lot of businesses, because of the uncertainty, are not willing to spend money on capital expenditure because we don't know how long this is going to last. And if we spend money on improvements now we may not have enough money to last through the year.

"But we'll get through it. We will. We're resilient. Valentine's is not going anywhere. We'll find a way."

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