By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Club Med has reiterated that the "target date" for re-opening its San Salvador resort remains December 2021 in the wake of its move to terminate between 180-190 workers.
The resort chain, in a brief statement to this newspaper, said: "Club Med has operated in The Bahamas for more than 40 years and we remain committed to the health and safety of our staff, guests, partners and the local community. Barring any external factors that may impede travel or governmental restrictions, our target date to reopen Club Med Columbus remains December 2021."
Club Med's statement contradicts John Pinder, the Government's director of labour, who last week said the Columbus Isle property may not re-open before 2022. It may also provide some limited reassurance to former staff and the wider San Salvador community as at least they have a rough date for when the resort will be back in business.
For Darrin Woods, the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union's (BHCAWU) president, said the all-inclusive property had not indicated a re-opening date in the termination letters handed to employees last week. Workers, though, were largely paid the due severance and other benefits owed to them.
Meanwhile San Salvador's MP, Opposition leader Philip Davis, said the termination of Club Med staff “came as no surprise” while blaming the Government’s inaction for “weakening” the island's economy.
“The announcement of the furlough of scores of workers at the Club Mediterranean Resort at Columbus Isle, San Salvador, though very disappointing, came as no surprise," Mr Davis said.
"The Government was duly notified of the hotel’s deferred opening until December 2021 and the connected reasons. Further, they could have anticipated this eventual furlough and moved proactively to prevent this devastating blow to the economy of San Salvador.”
Mr Davis said he had appealed to the Government months ago to “urgently address” these issues with Club Med, and added: “I again call on the Government to urgently address and resolve the issues that are preventing the reopening of Club Med.
“This is extraordinary negligence and incompetence on the part of the Prime Minister, who claims to be leading the way in re-opening the country's national economy. This inaction by the Government has deepened the suffering of our people and further weakened the economy of San Salvador. This is totally unacceptable.”
Mr Davis is likely suggesting that the Government should have invested in upgrading San Salvador's healthcare infrastructure to at least encourage Club Med to re-open earlier, as this was one of the reasons cited by the resort chain as being behind the prolonged closure.
The resort chain, whose ultimate parent is Chinese conglomerate, Fosun International, said the property's remoteness and lack of healthcare infrastructure could endanger guests and staff if an outbreak occurred.
Mr Woods last week said: "The reason why they said they are not opening is because of limited airlift, limited hospital beds and an inability to get healthcare right away.
"There's only limited healthcare, a clinic, on the island. Their thing is if something were to happen, their ability to get employees and guests proper medical care would only go so far." Club Med largely caters to a European client base, and guests would have a long way to travel with no frequently scheduled direct airlift if they were to contract COVID-19 and need urgent medical care.
Dionisio D'Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, last year admitted that the Government had a “difficult mountain to climb” to persuade Club Med to re-open before December 2021 due to San Salvador's limited airlift and healthcare capacity.
"It's devastating for the economy of San Salvador for it to be that long," Mr D'Aguilar said then. "December 2021 is, as you can imagine, an exceptionally long time. It's 15 months, and Club Med is the single largest employer on that island, the only major employer. It's naturally devastating for the residents of that island.
"That's a very special situation given the fact the whole property's focus is on the European market. It's a bit different. Most of our Family Island properties are very American-centric, and it's so much easier and closer to come up with a 'Plan B'.
"If you're an American in the Out Islands it's much easier to get home if you fall sick even though it has to be by private plane. Most people if they're ill want to go back home, but if you're coming from France and Italy, which is the greatest source of visitors to Club Med, it's a long way away. You can't put them on a commercial plane, and you can't put them in our healthcare system as challenged as it is."
He confirmed that the main fears behind Club Med's decision were the inability of San Salvador's healthcare facilities to cope with a major COVID-19 outbreak, which was "compounded with the lack of international airlift" given that the resort operated just one flight per week in and out of the island from France.
"That was not considered sufficient," he added. "They're working their way through all the resorts in terms of what are the safest locations to open, given that there are not sufficient healthcare facilities on the island, given that there was no robust trans-Atlantic or international airlift, it reached that point where it ranked low in all their resorts in terms of opening.
"There wasn't much the Government of The Bahamas could have done in terms of removing those significant obstacles. They [Club Med] would wish for a scenario where COVID-19 is mitigated substantially, receded substantially or a vaccine is in place, would be my guess, before they go to a small remote location."