Hoteliers report cancellations amid coronavirus fears

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By Machela Osagboro

Panic surrounding the coronavirus is impacting Antiguan hotels in the shape of cancelled and postponed bookings by anxious holidaymakers.

Some resorts have already reported a significant drop in occupancy due to the arrival of the virus in the Caribbean.

And even though there are still no cases in Antigua and Barbuda, others say bookings have dipped so low they are not ruling out being forced to lay off staff.

Alex Browne, manager of the Starfish Jolly Beach Resort, told Observer the hotel was considering cutting workers’ hours.

“We are not yet at the stage of laying off; it is something that we are reviewing. And, if needed, we may have to go on a reduced work week,” he said.

The comments echo fears made recently by Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez who expressed concern hotel staff would bear the brunt.

The confirmation of cases of COVID-19 in the Caribbean islands of St Maarten, Dominican Republic, St Barthélemy and French St Martin have put the industry on edge.

Chairman of the Antigua Tourism and Hotel Association (ATHA), Vernon Jeffers, said a meeting of hotel bosses and Ministry of Health officials was planned for today.

Browne, a director on the ATHA board, said the meeting would carve out collective plans for the sector going forward.

Other Antiguan-based hotels reported bookings being cancelled or guests calling with concerns about the virus.

Jeffers, general manager of the Sugar Ridge hotel, said the Valley Road-based resort had only been marginally affected.  

“We have not been directly affected but we have guests who have pending bookings with us and they have been calling trying to get a sense of what to do, if they have to postpone their stay with us,” he said. Other hotel managers cited similar calls.

Browne said his hotel had been badly bit by last week’s travel advisory affecting planes from Italy. He said the resort’s previous 80 per cent occupancy had plummeted to 68 per cent.

“We have lost 16 per cent of our occupancy from the Italian market. Thus we are looking at our options.”

Browne added that he would have to wait and see how business might be further impacted. Jeffers also expressed sentiments that workers may have to be laid off if the sector is too adversely affected.

Cocobay Resort’s guest manager, O’Neal Richards, said educating his staff on proper safety measures when engaging with tourists was of utmost priority.  

“I had several briefings with my team members, especially those who are in direct contact with guests,” he said. That includes “advising them on proper etiquette with guests, even with this threat above us,” Richards added.

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