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Hotel Workers At 'Wit's End' Ahead Of Re-Open

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Darrin Woods

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Hotel workers were yesterday said to be at "their wit's end", a union president said yesterday, with many unable "to go much further" after enduring a six-month wait for their employers to re-open.

Darrin Woods, the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union's (BHCAWU) president, hailed the announcement of the October 15 tourism return as "of the utmost importance to getting employees back on their feet" financially and emotionally.

Speaking after Dionisio D'Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, said his ministry had recommended that date as the target for re-opening hotels and beaches, with tour, attraction and excursion providers to follow on November 1, the union chief told Tribune Business that many resort workers are "on the edge right now" after going months without their regular income.

Pointing out that the October/November period would be a better period to attempt tourism's re-opening compared to the first effort in June/July, as the former includes the Thanksgiving holiday that traditionally kicks-off the peak winter season, Mr Woods said it was vital that both Atlantis and Baha Mar unveil their planned return dates soon.

Arguing that this would boost travel market confidence that The Bahamas' revival is real, he added that the two flagship mega resort properties tended to influence and impact what smaller hotels did. Reiterating that the union had been hoping the duo would create "a positive domino effect" during the first re-opening, he added that their decision to remain closed ultimately had "the opposite effect".

"That's welcome news that the industry's going to be opening up," Mr Woods said of Mr D'Aguilar's announcement yesterday. "That's something that we've been waiting on. I've been told that the [COVID-19 case] numbers in some of the markets we get our visitors from are going down.

"Once we're able to open up safely and get our people back to work that's welcome news. It's of the utmost importance. This period has been wearing on those persons. We have got to get it open. We now have to find out what the hotels are planning. The ones I've spoken to, they're thing was probably not before November."

Joy Jibrilu, the Ministry of Tourism's director-general, yesterday gave a media presentation showing that COVID-19 infection rates were either "flattening" or declining in key US visitor source markets such as New York, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Houston and Los Angeles.

"The quicker we can get them back to work and earning a living, instead of relying on government's unemployment benefits and assistance programmes is of the utmost importance," Mr Woods added, "getting them back on their feet and giving them income.

"They're at their wit's end right now. They're on edge. They cannot go much further than they have already gone. This is a lot for anyone to endure up to this point." He said the timing of the second effort to re-open tourism was "better" since it coincided to with the run-up to Thanksgiving and the start of the peak winter tourism season.

"It's a little more robust than July/August/September," the BHCAWU president said. "With the travelling public knowing the borders and tourism market are open for business, they begin to make plans. People might have been reluctant to make plans not knowing when it would begin."

However, Mr Woods said the re-opening of major resort properties "kind of dictates" the level of demand and willingness to travel. "If a couple of major hotels are open, that sends a strong signal to the travelling public I believe," he added in reference to Atlantis and Baha Mar.

"They're the anchor properties, and people like to see what they're doing. If they look to do some things, some of the smaller properties may follow suit. We were looking to those properties to create a domino effect in a positive way the first time. It went the opposite way. If they open some of the other properties will do likewise and that will give the travelling public confidence in what we're doing here."

However, both Atlantis and Baha Mar have yet to commit to concrete opening dates almost six months on from their end-March/early April closures. Mr D'Aguilar said yesterday: "I have been in a number of discussions with the chief executives of Atlantis and Baha Mar to ascertain what their current thinking is about reopening, and I am hoping they will make some announcements, very soon, with concrete opening dates.

"Naturally, given the enormous amount of resources required to re-launch properties of their respective sizes, they want to be assured of an economically sustainable customer base when they re-open. As such, they are assessing a myriad of issues, mostly relating to state of the pandemic in their core market, the US, before they commit to an opening announcement.

"I want to assure the Bahamian people and the workers in those two anchor properties, that we, in the Ministry of Tourism, are doing everything that we can to make their opening a reality as soon as possible."

Dave Beckford, an Atlantis employee and former hotel union presidency candidate, told Tribune Business yesterday that the Paradise Island mega resort was still likely to opt for a phased opening and be unlikely to bring back all its nearly 8,000 employees at once.

"Right now everything's wait and see what's going to happen," he said, noting that the uncertainty continues for many in the hotel industry. "I believe the Government is determined to open up the tourism sector but, even if the hotels open, what's going to happen to the workers not brought back to work?

"It's going to be interesting to see when the unemployment benefit discontinues because the timing doesn't seem to be on the same page with when that stops [end of September] and the hotels open."

Mr Woods, meanwhile, said former Melia Nassau Beach employees should be starting to receive the National Insurance Board (NIB) payments due to them.

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