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Grenada steps in

Grenada steps in

Grenada’s government was one of the quickest to announce a range of measures to promote business sustainability, including EC$20 million (around £6 million) worth of payroll support for hoteliers, restaurants, bars and small travel agents.

 

Small hotels can benefit from an additional EC$7 million fund made available through the Grenada Development Bank, while income support would also be directed to help local bus and taxi drivers and tourist vendors to “cushion the effects of Covid-19”.

 

During’s Grenada’s lockdown, health minister Nickolas Steele played out the war rhetoric many of us have now become used to in order to try to keep citizens in their homes: “Would you venture out of your house if bombs and bullets were flying around? This is an invisible virus but it’s the same thing. If we as a people make the same mistakes [as other countries], we will get the same results…. Do not leave your homes unless it’s a food or medical emergency.”

 

With warnings like that, of course any remaining staff at “non-essential” businesses had to be released from work to go home and abide by the curfew.

 

Adele Garbutt, a director at Calabash, her family’s hotel on the island, said she had hoped to keep some staff on in security, gardening and in order to undertake annual improvement works within the resort at this time of closure, but had had to send them home.

 

“We would usually close around August and September time anyway to carry out essential maintenance and improvements at the hotel and are well used to that process of closing down – we had thought perhaps we could do that now, while we have no guests, but if staff are mandated to stay at home, of course we can’t.

 

“We were thankful of a good January and February at least, so we had been able to shore up some income. We’ve done our best to assure people their jobs are secure, and that we hoped they could sit tight. We paid them for March and service charge will be sent onto them for April; we hope the government packages can now then help them, and us, further.”

 

Meanwhile, the team at the hotel have made a short video to keep the spirit alive and telling guests they will “see them soon”.

 

United effort

Grenada Tourism Authority (GTA) chief executive Patricia Maher said: “Whilst most of our tourism businesses are temporarily closed, the GTA is engaging with them in the proactive planning of a sustainable recovery programme. In the meantime, we’re reaching out to share best practice and creative support for maintaining customer engagement, including on social media, and recovery planning.”

 

Garbutt added: “I believe the Grenada Hotel Tourism Association was trying to push further for specific assistance too. This whole process has been very uniting for us as hoteliers, sharing how we are coping, and our best practice to get through this.”

 

Elsewhere in the region, independent hoteliers have been doing what they can to survive too, and have tried to keep staff on and occupied where possible.

 

Kyle Mais, general manager at Jamaica Inn, says staff were given the opportunity to work in other essential departments such as hotel maintenance to supplement wages during closure.

 

“We are working assiduously to ensure our team members are not displaced,” Mais said. “During this period of closure, team members are currently being placed on rotation and utilizing their vacation leave.”

Regional response

Regional response

For bigger players, having to cope with the staff situation has been just as painful.

 

Sandals Resorts International’s employs 15,000 staff across its 15 Sandals and three Beaches Resorts in the Caribbean, all shuttered until 15 May initially.

 

The company said it will use the time of closure “to enhance the properties ready for when guests are welcomed back... some of the resort staff will be assisting with this effort”.

 

“The resort team members are the heart and soul of Sandals Resorts, and their wellbeing is of great importance to the company,” said Karl Thompson, managing director, Unique Vacations UK Ltd. “During this unprecedented time, staff are being provided two weeks of fully paid holiday, care packages of household staples and supplies, and for the duration of the resort’s temporary closure, partial salaries and retention of established benefits.”

 

The Sandals Foundation was also continuing to support team members through various community programmes local to them, and donated $5 million (JMD) to the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica to purchase ventilators for hospitals. The company was also offering the government access to 52 rooms at the Sandals Inn (also known as Sandals Carlyle), shuttered in 2019, but now potentially used as isolation centres for patients to recover before returning home.

 

Transportation for healthcare professionals in western Jamaica was also being offered, and handheld thermometers donated to the Ministry of Health in Jamaica. Sandals Regency La Toc Golf Resort & Spa in Saint Lucia was also being made available to accommodate Cuban healthcare workers coming onto that island to assist with Covid-19 efforts. Several other islands including Antigua and Dominica, also benefitted from medical teams with specialized skills flown in from Cuba to assist in the fight against the disease.

Sensitive marketing strategy

Sensitive marketing strategy

Hotels and destinations are also trying to make sure they keep their place in an albeit dimmed spotlight, said CHTA’s Frank Comito, by making sure there was content out there – from showcasing cooking lessons online, to making special rum cocktails, or streaming yoga from the beach.

 

“There is a feeling that it’s insensitive to be overtly marketing, but you can still keep a message out there,” he said. “No-one knows when we will come out of this, but it’s important to keep accenting what we have here – an incredibly diverse region that was already in great shape, and will welcome people back when ready to travel.”

 

Carol Hay said the CTO is implementing webinars and incentives to stimulate trade interest, and has been rolling out activity around the new #CaribbeanDreaming hashtag.

 

The campaign seeks to encourage the trade to share images from their own past trips and put out offers for perhaps June, or July onwards to stimulate some interest.

 

“Tourism may be closed for business, but the shopping basket isn’t,” Hay said. “Of course you have to be sensitive to what is going on, but we also have to keep the interest up. We cannot just sit back completely at this time – we need to do this to protect the tourism future.”

 

Anguilla’s Brown is confident an approach focused on PR will be the best measure for now. “We’re still putting positive stories out there if we think it’s right. I do think the Caribbean will remain popular, as we’ve had relatively few cases and it’s safe and familiar.”

 

She added people could likely steer towards the option of villas, as a way of staying a little isolated still, rather than choosing large hotels. “People will want to stay privately perhaps, and maybe we will see a boom again in multi-generational travel as families want to gather and see each other again.”

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