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Atlantis: 'No firm re-opening date'

The Atlantis resort on Paradise Island.

The Atlantis resort on Paradise Island.

* Resort chief says 'premature' to go to full redundancy

* Says additional funding for 'long-term stability' secured

* Admits COVID-19 has thwarted comeback 'at every turn'

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Atlantis last night revealed it still "does not have a firm re-opening date" while telling around 8,000 staff it would be "premature" to make any of them permanently redundant.

Audrey Oswell, the Paradise Island mega resort's president and managing director, in a letter to employees that was obtained by Tribune Business said the continued uncertainty over occupancy levels and bookings whenever the resort does re-open meant it was too early to determine staffing needs.

Instead, she said Atlantis had earlier this week "secured additional funds" that will both help to secure the resort's "long-term financial stability" and enable it to provide employees with financial assistance beyond what they are presently receiving from government-funded unemployment benefits and the Department of Social Services.

Atlantis will now make "partial vacation payments" to all temporarily laid-off staff beginning on or before October 16, 2020, with this money set to be distributed in monthly installments.

Health insurance will also be maintained for those "eligible" persons, while members of the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) will also get a payment from the health and welfare fund attached to the industry's pension fund.

Ms Oswell, meanwhile, said COVID-19 had "at every turn" thwarted Atlantis' efforts to re-open earlier during the summer. While the resort's management had initially anticipated the pandemic would be "short lived", with tourism rebounding rapidly, she conceded: "That is not how this played out."

"Over this summer and this fall, we have made every effort to welcome guests back to Atlantis while ensuring the health and well-being of our team members," Ms Oswell told employees. "Unfortunately, at every turn COVID-19 considerations have prevented us from opening our doors.

"As of this writing, we do not have a firm re-opening date. I am hopeful that we will overcome the remaining hurdles and be able to re-open soon. We will continue to communicate with you about developments in our re-opening plans and schedules."

Ms Oswell's letter indicates that Atlantis is almost certainly joining the likes of Baha Mar, Sandals Royal Bahamian, the British Colonial Hilton and Club Med's San Salvador property in electing not to re-open on the October 15 date recommended by the Ministry of Tourism for the hotel sector's re-opening.

The ongoing uncertainty is likely to dismay and frustrate the several thousand Atlantis staff, and their families, many of whom have been on furlough for more than six months and surviving off National Insurance Board (NIB) and government unemployment benefits that reports yesterday suggested may be cut to as little as $100 per week.

Ms Oswell's letter appears to have been motivated, at least in part, by the growing calls from many Atlantis staff for the resort to give them full termination pay and release them from its employment on the basis that this will provide them with more funds - at least in the short-term - than unemployment benefits.

However, she dashed hopes that Atlantis would give in to these demands by asserting that terminations would be too early given the uncertainty surrounding the staffing levels that will be required whenever the resort does open. This was despite conceding that the Paradise Island mega resort has already assessed scenarios where some posts would be eliminated.

"I know some of you have reached a point where your preference is for Atlantis to make your employment redundant," Ms Oswell admitted. "I hear you. I want you to know that we have thoroughly reviewed and considered a scenario where certain roles are eliminated as we wait out the re-opening of our resort.

"As we press forward with current and future challenges, including re-opening the property and building back guest bookings in the midst of COVID-19, we have no certainty as to what business levels will be when we do re-open. Therefore, it would be premature to separate you from the company permanently at this time."

However, it appears unlikely that Ms Oswell's letter will ease employee concerns. "Actions speak louder than words. Kind gestures will not help us," one employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, told this newspaper.

They also disclosed that another meeting was held yesterday, by Adrian Francis of advocacy group Operation Sovereign Bahamas, to organise a protest march next Wednesday over Atlantis' non-payment of full severance packages.

"There was a packed room, and workers outside," the source said of the meeting held at Global Ministries. "All of them are saying they want their redundancy package, even managers, and they don't know why Atlantis is doing what it's doing. This is going to be a continuing issue."

They added that other hospitality industry workers, including taxi drivers, straw vendors and hair braiders, were also likely to join the march.

Ms Oswell, meanwhile, describing Atlantis' six-month closure as "a harrowing experience", added: "It has been more than six months since Atlantis closed its doors due to COVID-19. At that time we hoped the closure would be short-lived, and tourism would rebound quickly.

"Regrettably, that is not how the pandemic has played out. During our closure, much work has gone into shoring up the long-term future of Atlantis and, consequently, all of our livelihoods."

Asserting that these decisions "have not been easy", Ms Oswell added: "Atlantis is the flagship of tourism for the country. And, as such, we have an even greater responsibility to ensure that the right decisions are made to carry us forward well into the future.

"I am pleased to share with you that earlier this week, we have secured additional funds that will help to ensure the long-term financial stability of the company." While the source of this financing was not disclosed, Ms Oswell said Atlantis has not been sold and that Brookfield Asset Management remains its owner.

She ended her letter with a rallying call for all Atlantis employees to unite, and there is some irony in the fact it was released on the very day that the Ministry of Tourism unveiled its plans to eliminate the mandatory 14-day quarantine that has been cited for deterring tourist bookings and hampering the industry's re-opening (see other article on Page 1B).

However, the absence of any certainty over when the Paradise Island mega resort and its Baha Mar counterpart will finally re-open is likely to dampen economic activity in the short-term as well as cut airlift into The Bahamas.

COVID-19 infection rates in their major source markets as well as in The Bahamas will be a key consideration for both, although a re-opening around the Thanksgiving holiday that traditionally signals the start of the winter tourism season will probably be their goal.

Comments

trueBahamian 3 years, 9 months ago

So, they are uncertain and Bahamar and Sandals are not in play anytime soon. But, the Minister is full speed ahead. Does he talk to the mega resorts before he makes his dumbass decisions? It's like the July reopening that didn't do squat for our economy but catapulted us into very high infection rates which results in less people wanting to come here when we open. This man is a colossal dumbass.

lovingbahamas 3 years, 9 months ago

I am guessing maybe by Christmas.

tribanon 3 years, 9 months ago

Perhaps by Christmas, but it certainly won't be Christmas 2020 !!

ThisIsOurs 3 years, 9 months ago

agreed. the hotels could see all kinds of lawsuits if there's an outbreak...even more damaging than that would be reputational risk of being branded as a virus hotspot.

happyfly 3 years, 9 months ago

The whole world is a covid hotspot

proudloudandfnm 3 years, 9 months ago

The hotels cannot open while the US and the Bahamas allow the virus to run rampant.

Good lord, this is isn't rocket science.

Opening our borders will not result in any kind of economic recovery.

There is no debating that. Tourism will not come back anytime soon. And now that we're taking the US approach to the pandemic we're gonna end up on every no fly list out there. Watch the US Embassy send out a warning. Again.

And all we'll end up with is a continuous infection rate. Just like the US, still in their first wave, since friggin March.

Bahamians can't wait to go to Florida, do some christmas shopping. Hit the strip clubs.

Lone rona comin back....

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