The final sunset for Willowbank?
Axed staff hopeful hotel will reopen
Willowbank staff remain hopeful that the cash-strapped hotel will “find the funds” to reopen again in time for the summer.
The 70-room hotel in Sandys closes its doors today as the downturn in the economy takes its toll on the tourism industry.
The 46 axed staff called today “a very sad day” and “an end of an era”. The hotel plans to close quietly at 5pm with workers saying they have no choice but to “collect their money and go”.
However, staff have told The Royal Gazette that “there is talk” of the 50-year-old hotel opening again next year.
Last week the family-run Christian hotel welcomed just one couple and a mother and her daughter with all four guests checking out at the weekend.
It has meant staff have had three days to carry out a cleanup of the resort and follow instructions to “make it look as good as they could”.
Some workers carried out repairs inside of the cottages while others spent their last days cleaning roofs.
Instead of selling off any of the hotel’s furniture, fixtures or fittings, bosses have simply instructed staff to keep everything as it is “for the time being”.
About five workers, including a landscaper and an office manager, will continue to be employed to maintain the buildings. There is also no mention of the closure on the resort’s website.
Maintenance workers Nelson Reid and Chris Clarke were yesterday driving around the resort in a golf cart to see which roofs needed cleaning.
They said there was a glimmer of hope that the hotel would reopen but complained “staff haven’t been told a thing” as “the trustees are keeping quiet”.
Mr Reid said: “At the end of the day, that’s going to be it for us.
“We’ll collect our money and go. There’s nothing planned, we’ll just go our separate ways.
“We haven’t been told much about the future of the place, we’ve just been told to spend our last days cleaning the roofs.”
The trustees of Willowbank issued a statement at the end of September saying they had “unanimously agreed” to close the hotel on November 30 “for an indefinite period”. They announced there were no plans to sell or lease the property, but were “praying that God will give us a clear vision of what Willowbank should be used for”.
It has also been reported that the conference centre looks set to remain in use after the hotel has closed. It is understood that the on-site conference centre will continue to be rented out for local events and the cottages will be made available when needed.
Only workers who have been employed at Willowbank for more than a year will receive a severance package.
Mr Clarke said most of the workers had stayed to “work it out” but a couple of people had left as soon as they got other jobs.
He said: “People have not been happy since the announcement was made, but what could we do?
“Now I have to look for work, I know that’s not going to be easy, but I’ll take whatever I can get.”
The Royal Gazette found just a handful of staff going about their normal duties at Willowbank yesterday. Maintenance workers could be seen carrying out repairs and landscapers were tending the land, while kitchen staff were spotted walking around in their uniforms.
There were no signs of any guests and the beach, swimming pool and tennis courts remained empty. Many of the cottages had their doors wide open and furniture could be seen piled up in the middle of the bedrooms.
Tables and chairs had been stacked up outside the restaurant and the sun loungers on the beach lay on their side and covered in seaweed.
A hotel landscaper, who did not want to be named, said he was one of the “few lucky ones” who would still have a job after today.
He said: “It looks like we are trying to reopen next summer. We might not be closed for that long, we just have to find the funds to get up and running again.”
Tourism Minister Wayne Furbert said at the time of Willowbank’s closure announcement, the Ministry had “offered to meet and assist, within reason, where possible”.
Mr Furbert said he was still “quite willing” to meet with members of the trustees if they wanted to.
But Shadow Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell said the loss of hotels over the last decade had been “catastrophic”.
He said: “The closure of the Willowbank Hotel is one more step down a road that has cost Bermudians dearly in terms of jobs and career opportunities.
“The OBA recognises and understands the significant cost and competitive challenges that have emerged over the past couple of decades to challenge Bermuda’s blue chip position in the world of tourism.
“We nevertheless believe that Bermuda’s Government could have done much more to assist its hotels to weather the storms and remain in business.”
Mr Crockwell added that Bermuda has lost its “feel-good, welcoming vibe” and tourism was facing serious challenges.
He added: “We could have done a better job, and we still can, but we will need a change of leadership, a fresh start to make it happen.”
Willowbank manager Terri Allison said “that’s correct” when asked if the hotel would close at 5pm today. But when she was asked further questions, she repeated: “I do not wish to comment at this time.”
Fernance Perry, chairman of the Willowbank trustees, did not respond to requests for comment. A work colleague told The Royal Gazette he was “inundated with meetings all day”.
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