HOTELS across the Caribbean are responding differently to the challenges posed by the 2020 Coronavirus. All have taken every opportunity, like everyone, to survive a crisis that’s shut their doors tight and sent all staff packing.
Different hotels and governments are taking different approaches to solving a similar problem according to availability of scarce finances, but small, medium and large hotels have all been forced to succumb to COVID-19, the equal opportunity virus.
Many have either benefitted from stimulus packages or transformation of properties from holiday resorts to necessary quarantine centers, with workers sent home either penniless or with pitiful promises.
But not all have decided to simply bite the bullet and let the COVID-19 chips fall where they may. Some have consciously decided that in this time of desperation and absolute need they should do whatever they can to stand by those who have kept their doors open in fine times: their staff.
Two hotel groups stand out in Saint Lucia in that regard.
Bay Gardens, the largest local hotel chain, decided from Day One it would not close down, continuing to advertise its lower-priced ‘Staycation’ packages for locals while assuring employees they will be kept on the job until the end of April, to help them adjust to the new times and prepare for the uncertainties ahead.
Sandals Resorts International (SRI), the largest employer in the hotel sector with three resorts and a golf course, closed the smaller two hotels (La Toc and Halcyon) and kept the largest, Sandals Grande, open till the end of March.
But while many of the 15 hotels forced to close are welcoming arrangements to become quarantine centers, not everything has come to a standstill at the closed Sandals properties.
Yesterday (Friday) Sandals Halcyon distributed hampers to staff members.
Yesterday too, 113 Cuban medical professionals arrived here from Havana and took up residence at Sandals La Toc.
SRI shut down the entire group across the Caribbean on March 23 with a reopening date of May 15, but no other hotel or group has given a definite reopening date.
On Thursday, La Toc staff heaped praise on their employers for their consideration of staff interests as they face their worst employment crisis ever.
The gratitude of Sandals employees across the island was perhaps best encapsulated in a Facebook post by a permanent staff member, Trisha Tessa Nelson.
In a post (dated March 21) entitled ‘Feeling Grateful’ she wrote: ‘Never have I seen a friendly island turned into a ghost town. Many families are being affected and the reality is that many of the persons employed got sent home with a letter pretty much saying thanks for your service and we don’t owe you anything. However, this is what Sandals is doing for the Sandals Family: We the permanent workers got two weeks’ vacation and 40% of our salary fortnightly…
‘To my Chairman Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, I salute you. When the multi-millionaires of the world sent their workers packing with an empty hand, you showed them what loyalty and family is about.’
She also saluted the La Toc General Manager (Gaurav Sindhi) who had addressed them earlier in the day: ‘Thank you for coming out and speaking to us with a voice that you were trying really hard to hold up. It tells a lot about one’s character.’
And Ms Nelson ended on this healthy note: ‘This is a trial period and I stand in solidarity with the brand I represent, The Sandals Brand. This too shall come to pass…’
That’s how the workers see it. But how about the bosses?
And what about the ‘Bossman’ himself? How does the Capo di tuti capi (Chief of all Chiefs) at SRI feel about what the invisible virus has done and caused to his chain and its teaming teams of teamsters?
In a statement yesterday, SRI Chairman ‘Butch’ Stewart briefly went down Memory Lane to assure guests and staff that he, like everyone else, has seen and felt what COVID-19 has done to the region’s tourism industry and the workers, like his, who keep it afloat in good times and in bad.
But alas, these are worse than normal bad times.
According to Stewart, ‘We have been in business for nearly four decades and have seen our share of many kinds of disruptions, from natural events to various health emergencies.’
But in this instance, he said, ‘We are saddened by the impact that COVID-19 is having on the world.’
‘If we could have,’ he indicated, ‘we would have remained open to welcome guests and for the benefit of our team members, but airline disruptions and airport closures, coupled with recent global health warnings, have forced us to temporarily close.’
‘Right now, as we make this transition,’ Stewart explained, ‘our main priority is the health and well-being of all of our team members and valued guests.’
Ever-focused on tomorrow — and the day after — the Caribbean’s leading hotelier said: ‘We will use this temporary closure to embark on various improvement projects both front and back of house, so that when the time comes, we can welcome guests with open arms — and an even more elevated experience.’
And if there was any doubt about his eternal optimism, the Sandals Chairman reiterated: ‘Our view remains optimistic. Travel is resilient and so is Sandals Resorts.’
‘We are proud to be a brand that customers and team members can trust,’ Stewart concluded, underscoring his own hopeful positive vision of an eventual return to an even better future.
Staff and guests have all and together been given this signature assurance by way of a firm promise from the man at the helm of the Caribbean’s leading hotel brand.
Stewart promised: ‘Both Sandals and the Caribbean are resilient and will bounce back stronger than before, once the crisis has passed.’