• Redundancies hit nightlife, entertainment areas
• COVID-19 health protocols said to be key factor
• Move occurs days before Rosewood, SLS return
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Baha Mar last night confirmed it has terminated another 100 staff as it prepares to re-open its high-end Rosewood and SLS resort properties in just two days' time.
The Cable Beach mega resort, in a statement, said the permanent redundancies will mainly impact its nightlife and entertainment facilities which have been hit harder than other amenities by COVID-19 health protocols such as social distancing.
Forecast business volumes were another factor with the resort understood to have largely been running at occupancy levels in the low double-digits since its pre-Christmas 2020 opening apart from on the recent Super Bowl weekend.
Impacted employees were told that their terminations were effective as of yesterday, with letters stating: "We write with regret to inform you that as a result of the impact that COVID-19 has had on Baha Mar's business your position with the company has been made redundant and your services will no longer be required, effective March 1, 2021."
"The new reality shaped by COVID-19, and the resulting impact on travel and tourism, are continuously evolving," Baha Mar said. "As Baha Mar readies for the completion of its phased reopening, the resort made the difficult but necessary decision to further implement staffing reductions to adequately align with projected business levels and to comply with COVID-19 guidelines specifically regarding nightlife and entertainment."
No figures were provided on how many workers were affected, but informed Tribune Business sources said around 100 will be impacted. The job cuts will fall in areas such as Baha Mar's nightclub, pavilion pool and bars, with COVID-19 health protocols - especially social distancing requirements - said to have been the key driver because they make it impossible for such amenities to operate at full capacity.
"Baha Mar is in the process of communicating directly with each associate affected by this decision, and is available to help guide all impacted through the next steps. All affected associates will receive severance pay in accordance with the law and are eligible for rehire," the mega resort added.
The move, and especially its timing, will take some of the shine and attention away from the Thursday re-opening of Baha Mar's Rosewood and SLS properties, which has resulted in some 700 workers being recalled. Together with the 1,800 brought back at the Grand Hyatt pre-Christmas, this will take the Cable Beach complex's recalled workforce to more than 2,500 staff.
"Since the resort’s temporary closure on March 25, 2020, Baha Mar has singularly demonstrated its unwavering support for the economic relief and stability of its employees and the Bahamian community," its statement last night added.
"To-date, the resort has paid out in excess of $80m in wages, ex-gratia and severance payments, and is continuing to support the remaining furloughed full-time associates with ex-gratia payments plus covering insurance premiums to maintain associates’ health insurance, life and accidental death and dismemberment (ADD) insurance coverage."
And, focusing attention on the future, Baha Mar said completion of its Baha Bay water park and addition of new restaurant brands will create an additional 500 job opportunities by summer 2021.
The 100 terminations, though, further exposes the difficulties Bahamian resorts and the wider tourism industry will encounter in trying to re-open and rebound amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that is continuing to devastate key visitor source markets and deter persons from travelling via a combination of economic uncertainty and border restrictions.
Some major properties, such as Sandals Royal Bahamian, have yet to re-open, while others like the RIU Paradise Island returned only to close again because business volumes simply could not justify the re-opening.
Atlantis, Baha Mar's mega resort rival, re-opened the Royal Towers pre-Christmas 2020 only to close them again early in the New Year and re-furlough some staff due to lack of visitor demand as COVID-19 peaked in the US. The Royal Towers is now set to re-open again this month.
This all signals that the revival of The Bahamas' major economic engine, employer and leading source of foreign exchange earnings will not be a simple process, with many twists and turns likely throughout the remainder of 2021 as tourism and the hotel industry constantly adjust to changing market forces outside its control.
Baha Mar itself terminated between 1,100 to 1,200 workers last year as it downsized in response to COVID-19, and recently also announced the two-year closure of its Melia Nassau Beach property to make way for a $100m renovation.
Graeme Davis, Baha Mar's president, recently said 2021 revenues are forecast to be “40 percent less” than pre-COVID levels with the mega resort anticipating a slow, gradual ramp-up of bookings throughout 2021 from March and Easter onwards as the pandemic eases via the vaccination roll-out.
He added that the strength of both the Rosewood and SLS brands, especially their high-end market positioning and extensive customer databases, had given the Cable Beach mega resort confidence they could overcome continued travel market uncertainty around new US protocols that have already produced “some cancellations” in guest bookings.