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Hoteliers guarded as industry restarts

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The island's tourism industry has started to take off again after three airlines initiated limited services, with more flights scheduled to resume next month.

But industry executives warned that target dates for the reopening of hotels and resorts depended on the level of bookings — and the Covid-19 pandemic remaining under control.

Stephen Todd, the chief executive of the Bermuda Hotel Association, said: “Because there is such a high degree of uncertainty in the industry, it is extremely difficult to be able to firm up an agreed reopening date, with any degree of confidence and comfort, and be able to follow through and reopen properties.”

He added: “The biggest challenge is our inability to generate future bookings versus the high percentage of cancellations. It is the cancellation factor that drives projections of occupancy.”

The Bermuda Tourism Authority website showed that 12 tourist accommodations had reopened and another three planned to be open before the end of the month.

Another eight properties are expected to reopen by September 1.

Royal Palms Hotel in Pembroke opened again on July 2.

Theresa Harney-Zuill, the Royal Palms Hotel general manager, said: “We did have bookings for July, so we wanted to accommodate those guests that are able to travel and wanted to.”

Ms Harney-Zuill added six rooms at the 32-room hotel were occupied over the weekend.

But Ms Harney-Zuill said: “Unfortunately, we have had more cancellations than we would have liked.”

Ms Harney-Zuill continued: “That has a lot to do with the Covid-19 testing requirements.

“Some people have not been able to get their test results in time and had to cancel.

“A business guest was due to be in for three days, but you don't get your test results for three days after arrival and he couldn't afford to sit in the hotel for three days.”

But Ms Harney-Zuill added: “We are hopeful. We have had lots of enquiries, which is good. People are waiting for more airlift to be available.

“Locals are calling, too, and we are able to accommodate them, which is great.”

Coral Beach & Tennis Club, a members-only property in Paget, said it was now “fully operational”.

Nik Bhola, the general manager, added 47 employees, 36 of them Bermudian and more than half the number who were laid off in March, had “returned to some level of employment”.

He said work permits for 11 expatriate workers were not renewed, and eight Bermudians would be made redundant by the end of the month because of the reduction in the volume of business.

They work in the areas of housekeeping, maintenance and accounting.

But Mr Bhola added: “I really want to put that number in the right context. In the last six years, we have created 40 new positions. In a downturn, we have been able to reduce staff by just eight.”

Luxury property Cambridge Beaches Resort and Spa in the West End is scheduled to reopen September 1, a month later than the original target date.

Clarence Hofheins, the cottage colony's general manager, said: “We looked at what other hotels were doing, the airlift to the island, and some of the restrictions still in place for tourists and the feedback we got from people who were planning on coming to Bermuda.

“Although they appreciate that they are coming to a safe place, the restrictions are a little too much for them.

“With the risk of quarantine, they have decided they are going to wait and defer their vacations to a later date.”

Mr Hofheins said the 86-room property normally operated with 85 staff during winter months, increasing to 130 during the season, including part-time workers. All staff were laid off on March 21.

He said some maintenance staff were now back at work and some landscapers would join them in August.

He added the remaining staff would return “the closer we get to September 1”.

Mr Hofheins said: “We will operate like we do in the off-season, with 85-90 staff come September.

“All of our staff will work minimal shifts and we will try to be fair in allocating work to all of our staff, as much as business dictates. We don't want to make anyone redundant. I can't say it won't happen, but we want to keep the business running so that our staff have a future, not only during the pandemic, but in years to come.”

He added: “We will open to very low numbers of occupancy unless something drastically changes. Our methodology is that we are losing money while we are closed. Can we reopen and lose less money?

“We have no false hope that we will make any kind of a profit by opening the hotel. We just want to be able to survive until May 2021 when we believe that business will be back to normal, or somewhat normal.”

Rosemont Guest Suites in Pembroke reopened at the start of the month, but owner and manager Neal Stephens said two visitors from India, who were on island for a work project were stranded at the Pembroke property when the airport closed.

They stayed for almost four months before they returned home last week.

Mr Stephens said Rosemont's 12 employees worked in housekeeping and maintenance and that “six or seven” of them had returned to work.

He added: “With the amount of current airlift, it will be like winter occupancy until April. People are still afraid to travel — they're not jumping on planes.”

At the Fairmont Southampton, employees were laid off in March, although some stayed on because the hotel was the Government's main quarantine centre.

Some have returned to work as the island has opened up, such as golf course employees and staff at the Boundary sports bar and grill.

Kiaran MacDonald, the hotel's general manager, said: “Government has done an outstanding job of supporting people with the unemployment benefit, but we all realise there is a limited amount of funding they have got to work with, so we have to find a way out.”

The hotel has targeted an August 1 reopening but Mr MacDonald said the date was “a place holder” as a lot would depend on the volume of business and if Covid-19 remained under control.

Mr MacDonald said: “It's a moving target. It is so difficult to predict with any certainty as it is an evolving story. Advance bookings will be a big indicator for us.

“As and when we reopen, we will staff accordingly to the anticipated business levels. No one anticipates a sudden influx of guests so that we can reopen in the normal way.”

Mr MacDonald added: “What we have is a situation that will challenge the industry and the island for the next 18 months to two years. It is hard to see a way through this in anything but a gradual manner.

“Bermuda is the most beautiful place for a vacation, but I'm not sure vacations are high on people's agenda at the moment.

“They are more concerned with financial issues and with their own safety and security.”

Testing time: Theresa Harney-Zuill, general manager of Royal Palms Hotel (File photograph)
Right context: Nik Bhola, general manager of Coral Beach & Tennis Club (File photograph)
Kiaran MacDonald, general manager of the Fairmont Southampton (File photograph)
Stephen Todd, chief executive of the Bermuda Hotel Association (File photograph)

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Published July 23, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated July 23, 2020 at 7:23 am)

Hoteliers guarded as industry restarts

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