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Baha Mar Scraps October Opening: Resort Tells Workers Goal To Launch Next Month Not Feasible

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Government's tourism re-opening plans were yesterday dealt a major blow after Baha Mar told staff its October return was "not achievable" due to COVID-19 spikes here and in key US markets.

The Cable Beach mega resort, and its Melia Nassau Beach property, hinted strongly they may not re-open until Christmas at earliest - and possibly not until 2021 - as they informed non-unionised staff they will receive 30 percent of their base salary as an "ex-gratia" payment for up to a further 90 days.

Daniel Lozano, the Melia's general manager, told staff in a September 10 letter that the decision to further delay the property's re-opening to an undetermined date had been driven by Baha Mar's analysis of current COVID-19 infection rates both in The Bahamas and its key US tourism source markets.

He added that Baha Mar's initial expectations that COVID-19 would have been under control by October have not been realised, and the resort developer/owner had to prioritise the health and safety of both guests and staff.

"Difficult decisions must be made to protect those who are most important to us," Mr Lozano wrote. "This is why I am announcing that the re-opening of the Melia will be further delayed to preserve the safety of our associates and guests.

"This is a decision that was not made lightly, and we understand that it may come as a disappointment to many. It is a choice that was made based on the most recent assessment of the current state of COVID-19 cases here in The Bahamas and in our key US markets."

He continued: "In June, it was our goal to re-open in October. That goal is not achievable under the current circumstances. Our expectation was that the virus would have been controlled by this point which, unfortunately, is not the case.

"Please be assured that our desire and intent to open the resort as soon as it can be done safely, and in a way that allows our guests and associates to do so with the peace of mind we all yearn for in this tumultuous time."

Mr Lozano acknowledged the extra financial and mental stress the delayed re-opening was likely to cause Melia staff, adding: "We understand that this kind of uncertainty is difficult to live with. We want to assure you that we are doing the best that we can.

"To that end, we are once again providing all non-union, full-time associates an additional 90 days, 30 percent of base compensation as an ex-gratia payment, in addition to any payments being offered by the Government of The Bahamas' Ministry of Finance emergency relief fund."

Mr Lozano said the Melia would continue paying health, life and accidental death insurance premiums on behalf of staff, and pledged to work closely with The Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) on the provision of benefits and financial assistance to unionised staff. He said a further update on a possible opening date would be forthcoming next month.

A similarly-worded message was sent to thousands of Baha Mar staff by the mega resort's president, Graeme Davis. “There are no perfect decisions in our current climate, but there are ones that allow us to put the well-being of those we care about first,” he wrote.

“This is why I am announcing that the re-opening of Baha Mar will be delayed further in order to preserve the safety of our associates, community and guests. While this is a great disappointment to us all, it is a choice we make with a heavy heart after a sober assessment of the current state of COVID-19 cases here in The Bahamas and in our key US markets.”

Baha Mar's decision, coming just days after Dionisio D'Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, announced that his ministry is recommending all hotels and their beach amenities be allowed to re-open from October 15, will dilute the impact of the industry's return to business.

Sir Franklyn Wilson, the Arawak Homes and Sunshine Holdings chairman, last night described Baha Mar's decision as "very troubling" given that K Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minister, said on Wednesday that any failure to "jump start tourism" before year-end will create "a more troublesome scenario" for the Government's economic and fiscal plans.

"If you take a few statements made in the last 48 hours, it's very troubling," he told Tribune Business. "The fact that the minister mentioned the date of October 15, he didn't say the hotels are going to open then. He said that's the recommendation of his ministry to the Government.

"The minister of finance [Mr Turnquest] says the plans of the Ministry of Finance will really be challenged by the end of the year if things haven't kicked in for the sector being opened from October 15. He said, if I understood it properly, that the Ministry of Finance did modelling on the basis something is going to happen by October/November.

"Now [Baha Mar] is saying they will give 90 more days of ex-gratia payments. Presumably that's saying to the Ministry of Finance you may want to update your modelling as you were projecting that by the end of the year there will be some impact from tourism."

Mr D'Aguilar could not be reached for comment despite numerous attempts yesterday, but earlier this week he told Tribune Business that the tourism and hotel sectors' re-openings could not afford to wait or "be beholden to" the timelines that suited Atlantis and/or Baha Mar.

However, The Bahamas' two mega resort flagship properties are typically viewed as a bellwether, or gauge, of the strength and confidence of this nation's hospitality industry by travellers and external observers.

And many other Bahamas-based resorts often take their cue from Atlantis and Baha Mar, following their lead on re-opening decisions given that they are significant drivers of airline demand. Airlift supply at the time of the October 15 re-opening will likely be one element impacted by the Cable Beach resort's move, with Atlantis also still evaluating its opening options.

Just yesterday, Chris Morris, the Cape Eleuthera Resort and Marina's general manager, said: “I would love to hear from Baha Mar and Atlantis to know they are on track for the same date. They seem to be a barometer for the country in the eyes of the tourism market. Unfortunately, they have not yet confirmed for good reasons."

Given that Baha Mar has 2,336 rooms between its Grand Hyatt, Rosewood and SLS Properties, and the Melia has a further 694, the decision not to re-open in October takes almost 3,000 rooms out of New Providence's hotel room inventory for a further month at least, and possibly the rest of the year.

Baha Mar's move further highlights the questions, uncertainties and obstacles surrounding tourism's re-opening. Yet The Bahamas has little choice but to get the industry moving as rapidly as possible, as the pace of its COVID-19 recovery - jobs, growth and the foreign exchange earnings that support the US dollar currency peg - is hugely dependent upon it.

Comments

ThisIsOurs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

You know it's fine to hope but sometimes the writing is on the wall. Neither the hotels or the cruise lines will risk a major outbreak on their premises. It would gut their business. A grand opening followed by a massive outbreak could tarnish that property for 5 years. Whereas if they waited say a year on a vaccine, they're back to normal ops. Tourism officials have said nothing to allay any fears that they're overlooked health concerns. Its clear they're only concerned about the economy. You can force your own workers to go back to work but you can't force someone else to risk their business because you feel it's time

Other ideas are there. They're ignoring them over politics

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tribanon 1 month, 2 weeks ago

For your info, hotels are open throughout most of the USA and Canada. And a vaccine is not the panacea you seem to think it is.

Baha Mar and Atlantis will be keeping their doors closed for as long as they possibly can because they were both losing even more money with their doors open for business.

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proudloudandfnm 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Canada is doing an excellent job managing this virus. Americans cannot travel to Canada while the US ignored the virus. As for hotels in the US well its the US, they have one of the worst responses on the planet. They can open what they want but they are on just about every list of banned countries on the planet. And yes sir an effective vaccine would kill this pandemic practically overnight.

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ThisIsOurs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

What you say is fact but I suspect a hotel in N.Y. is much different than our hotels here. NY won't be brought to it's knees if one hotel has to close for a COVID infection. We have a lot to lose if there's an outbreak in the tourist sector. My belief is that is the risk the hotels are looking at.

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ThisIsOurs 1 month, 2 weeks ago

This is sad. We've had from March to act. to get a consortium of professionals together, instead we put forward the usual suspects who haven't given one idea ...providing small businesses with websites was an existing program. The one year visa was Barbados' idea . Construction is something thats been used ad infinitum during recessions to get money into an economy. They've waited until the last 5 mins of the show to try to get the rabbit out the remy .

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Honestman 1 month, 2 weeks ago

With this predictable development government's decision to try and force a 15th October re-opening appears nonsensical. Has the PM learned nothing from the botched 1st July reopening? The same circumstances exist with this latest reopening plan i.e. the risk of a further spike in infections is far greater than the limited benefit of opening when the major hotels are closed. Why not work in concert with the hotels? Their management seems eminently more sensible. When they feel it is safe to re-open to visitors then The Bahamas should re-open. We also need to face the inevitable fact that the tourist season is over for this year. It's time to face reality and plan accordingly.

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newcitizen 1 month, 2 weeks ago

The botched opening was not because of tourists, it was because of Bahamians.

And why do all the other hotels have to wait to open till Bahamar decides to open?

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tribanon 1 month, 2 weeks ago

It was not because of Bahamians.

The root cause was Minnis and D'Aguilar prematurely reopening our borders on July 1. They both have many deaths on their hands as a result of that most fateful and deadly decision.

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newcitizen 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Did Minnis and D'Aguilar get on the plane and spend 72 hours in Florida with no test? People have personal responsibility, you can't just blame everything on 'the government'.

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tribanon 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Think root cause. Bahamians would not have been able to take a trip to Florida had Minnis and D'Aguilar not foolishly re-opened our borders on July 1.

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Proguing 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Are you saying that Bahamians are too dumb to make decisions for themselves and that the PM should make decisions for all Bahamians like in a dictatorship?

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proudloudandfnm 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Yup. I mean seriously? Government told Bahamians its ok to go to coronavirus cental and return with no test and no quarantine. So yeah plenty morons travelled. So yes. Government has to dictate during a pandemic. Duh...

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Proguing 1 month, 2 weeks ago

You need to move to North Korea, you will love it there

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proudloudandfnm 1 month, 2 weeks ago

It was because of the Bahamian government. Period.

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newcitizen 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Be careful for what you wish. When you want the government to dictate the free choices of it's citizens you will end up in a dark place.

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proudloudandfnm 1 month, 2 weeks ago

A pandemic is most definitely a dark place. And notice I did say dictate IN A PANDEMIC....

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AnewView 1 month, 2 weeks ago

@New citizen agree completely.

All other hotels should try to open following the health protocols as best as possible, we anticipate this new normal to begin slowly but we have to remain hopefull that it grows. Bahamar seemingly doesn't want any part of the hardwork to rebuilding the tourism industry, they want to wait until other hotels do the heavy lifting and hope things goes back to normal rite away (dey daydreamin).

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AnewView 1 month, 2 weeks ago

@ newcitizen agree with you completely.

For the sake of the Bahamian hotel workers, all other hotels should attempt to reopen following all the health and safety protocols. Bahamar does not seem to want to do any heavy lifting in the countries effort to rebuild the tourism industry. They appear to want other hotels to try it while they sit on the side lines and wait for things to just magically go back to how they use to be. WAKE UP WAKE UP BAHAMAR !!!, youll to BIG BIG to not want be a leader in this effort of the new normal of wearing face mask. WHAT IF A VACCINE IS NOT AVAILABLE FOR MONTHS AND MONTHS?????????, THEN WHAT

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KapunkleUp 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Sad news but not unexpected. Maybe it's time to bring back that old slogan "It's better in the Bahamas".

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proudloudandfnm 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Yup. Hotels can't open for political needs they have to protect themselves and they have to be real. They don't need to win an election, and they don't want to morph into a hospital to house sick tourists. This government has performed so poorly nobody can trust them to do anything right. Bout vacation in place. That is idiotic. That is just dumb. Time for our gubment to get real and plan for survival without tourism for a while. It won't just come back in the middle of a pandemic, and it definitely won't come back in the middle of a surge. They better get real...

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PSherman42 1 month, 1 week ago

Opening for tourism won’t bring back the amount of tourists there was last year or years past. Ideally nearly 20-30% of tourists will return. Also, the tourists have more to fear. They would be coming from places that have had the virus run through it’s community, have to get on a plane, and then interact with the community. Tourists would have to prove to be COVID negative before getting into the country. The local community shouldn’t fear the tourists, the tourists should be wary of the local community for they won’t know if that person has COVID or not. Everyone will know a tourist is negative from the virus.

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PSherman42 1 month, 1 week ago

When you look at when the border opened, the community opened. The virus has been on the islands since December 2019 as it’s been global for that long. The government should reopen the community and see what happens prior to opening borders. Doing it at the same time will be disastrous. Aruba did it right from the start, they reopened in July. It spread in the community and not from tourism. Tourists need to prove they are COVID negative prior to being let into the country. Insurance is also purchased. This will help the health system if in fact a tourist needs to use services. The Bahamas should have never shut down since the spike upon reopening was not from tourists. Baha mar and Atlantis will most likely be hurting for years to come. Those resorts need to open. Marriott in Aruba has been open with no links of virus at the resort. It’s sad the Bahamian govt has decimated the tourism industry. Now it seems they are begging their two mega resorts to Open. It’s too late, they already instilled fear.

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PSherman42 1 month, 1 week ago

Atlantis has an opportunity to put Bahamians back to work! Show the country they are a leader. Not wait for baha mar to open. Atlantis should work with the government to reopen safely and with that play the political game. It’s bad enough the government bowed to China and drove Kerzner out.

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