Editorial: In a void, someone will fill the emptiness

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As it stands right now, there are two major hotels that will be closing in the near future.  This news comes, not from any official government department or through a press release to the media, but from the workers.  In light of the recent dip in arrivals from key markets, we would have thought that the Government would have been on the front lines disseminating information and fielding questions from a concerned public.  After all, tourism is the nation’s bread and butter and it should be handled with a great deal of sensitivity.
Before we go any further, let’s be clear, we are not going to start tossing around the arrival and stay-over numbers like a political football and making links to hotel closures where none is apparent.   We will leave that to the experts and the politicians.  We expect numbers to go up and to go down so we don’t start running around like Chicken Little screaming that “sky is falling” every time numbers dip.   One can never expect that our trend lines will always climb or stay flat, for that matter.   We only expect that the powers that be manage through the ups and downs to achieve an overall positive outcome.
What concerns us is the lack of information that has come our way from officialdom.  In the case of the Verandah Resort & Spa, we give credit to Rob Barrett.  He has made himself available to the media so as to ensure that questions are answered from the resort’s perspective.  He has been frank in the reasons that the decision was taken and has attempted to make the best of a bad situation, even weaving in the positive news of future expansion into the dialogue.
Over 200 employees will be affected by the closure, the first in the hotel’s 10-year history, because of “very trying times in our industry”, according to the Human Resource Administrator, Michelle Mings in her letter to the General Secretary of the Antigua & Barbuda Workers’ Union, David Messiah.   Ms Mings said that despite reducing room rates, the hotel was not able to generate enough advance bookings to meet financial obligations for September and October.  This resulted in a closure from August 30th to October 13th
Not much can be added there.  Questions were asked, reasonable answers were given and reported, and we move on … to Sandals.  This time, there is a public relations void.  Neither the Government nor hotel representatives are making any comment.  When contacted, the Minister of Tourism, Asot Michael, declined to comment – four days after receiving formal notification from the resort’s Chief Operating Officer, Shawn DaCosta. 
In his letter to union boss David Messiah, DaCosta made it a point to emphasise that Sandals is a big deal; being the largest hotel on the island, one of the largest private sector employers with over 700 employees, and a major foreign exchange earner.   According to the Sandals letter, the company contributed over $93 million to the economy in the past year.  
That last line alone, gives you an idea of how big a deal this is.  Sandals is closing from September 20th for up to five months to undertake essential maintenance works.  That basically means October through February.  There are at least two to three heavy hitting tourist months in there, so the impact will be significant and real.  Already, we have heard publically from one tour operator that he will be laying-off staff because of this development and may have to reduce the size of his fleet.
At the time of writing, we have not been able to get any word from the Government on the impact of the Sandals closure and if there are any mitigating plans that would bring greater comfort to those affected and the public at large.   Using Sandals, $93 million figure, the impact is significant and could be in the tens of millions.  The entire support and supply lines will be impacted – everyone from tour operators, to t-shirt vendors, to taxi drivers and suppliers of goods and services. 
In short, panic will begin to set-in if someone does not take charge of the public relations surrounding this and other temporary closures.  Someone needs to step-up and douse these embers before a raging fire erupts. With no comforting voice, fear begins to set-in and the information void gets filled by anyone willing to speak on the matter. 
This is when the Government needs to step-up their PR game and lead the conversation through these uncertain times.   The conspiracy theorist already believe that this is another power play by Sandals and are fearful that the “up to five (5) months” is a signal that if they get what they want, the five could me a much lower number.  If that is the case then we will state the obvious: temporary pain for long term relief is better than temporary relief for long term pain.

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