SUNBIZ

No Ground Zero Yet For Hoteliers

“This has undoubtedly been the most difficult event we could have ever imagined; to be faced with no choice but to suspend our island operations, and for an unknown period of time” said Raffe Hotels and Resorts chief executive officer Bradley Robinson.
26 Mar 2020 13:31
No Ground Zero Yet For Hoteliers
The last group hosted by Volivoli Beach Resort, in Rakiraki, before their flight to Los Angeles. Photo: Suncoast Fiji

As hotels and resorts close in the face of coronavirus, while others operate with a skeletal staff, most tour operators have expressed optimism about the Government supplementary budget announcement today.

Prayer sessions and sports on the beach are among activities carried out by resort staff who make up the skeletal workforce in resorts and hotels across the country.

Treasure Island Resort, Mamanuca

Treasure Island Resort has closed indefinitely as 126 staff members were sent on indefinite leave without pay, said general manager Jim Saukuru.

When the last guests left on March 23, the resort had to concede with zero occupancies.

Mr Saukuru said future bookings were either cancelled, deferred or postponed to October, November or December.

“We cannot foresee any lights in the tunnel for any improved occupancy till September.

“2020 is the worst year in our trading and it has given me no options but to completely shut down the resort.”

Skeletal staff comprising of six senior managers and four security guards maintain the resort.

Mr Saukuru said the hotel retained 32 staff because Lautoka was cordoned off for security measures.

The 32 workers are unable to leave the island resort to access their homes in the highlands and on the peripheries of borders set up in Nadi and Lautoka, he said.

Mr Saukuru said staff may be redirected to work on reclamation sites on the resort that include the seawalls, groins, replacements of walkaways and pool decking.

“We will also do the construction of a 130-metre new seawall, and replacements of 25 beach umbrellas.”

“We are also withdrawing any bookings from the European and Asian markets.”

Shangri-La’s Fijian Resort & Spa, Yanuca Island

Shangri-La’s Fijian Resort and Spa general manager Francis Lee said the hotel had implemented a range of precautionary measures since January 2020.

“Our colleagues are also reminded to stay home if they are not feeling well and to seek medical attention immediately if they believe they have symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness.

“We continue to remain vigilant and keep in close contact with local health authorities on the latest developments.”

Mr Lee said he could not respond to other queries as they were experiencing a blackout period.

Mana Island Resort and Spa, Mamanuca Islands

Workers of Mana Island Resort and Spa have turned to prayers as the effect of coronavirus takes its toll on the tourism sector.

The staff members are hoping that divine intervention will put an end to the global pandemic as prayer meetings and vigils are held at 7 pm daily.

Resort chief operation officer Hiroshi Matsumoto said the resort had a 10 per cent occupancy, but the number was expected to drop further in the weeks ahead.

Some of the 220 staff members of the resort remained on the mainland as Lautoka remained a confined area.

Mr Matsumoto said provision was made for a de-stress programme for workers.

Between 4 pm and 5 pm daily, sporting activities were permitted among staff members in a move to maintain high staff morale.

InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa, Natadola

InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa general manager Lachlan Walker said occupancy rates were not as it used to be.

“There are no plans to change staffing, although some have applied for leave without pay.

“We’re taking it day by day, as the situation is very fluid.”

Mr Walker said 60 of the hotel’s 200 rooms were occupied.

He said management was “very open-minded and very positive” in their outlook of the industry and would be expanding its plans to include the local market. The hotel has long stay guests.

Warwick Fiji, Coral Coast to remain open

Warwick Fiji general manager Marco Saxer said the hotel was open.

“We still have some foreign guests in the hotel, and we won’t send any staff home.”

Radisson Blu Resort Fiji Denarau Island

Radisson Blu Resort Fiji Denarau Island general manager Charles Homsy said management was reviewing its contingency plans.

“Occupancy is fairly low at this stage,” he said, adding they were finalising plans before an announcement would be made.

Viwa Island Resort, Yasawa

At Viwa Island Resort, the 32-strong workforce was reduced to minimal staff, said general manager Patrick Wong.

“It’s quiet, but we’re not closed yet.

“We have just under 10 per cent occupancy rate.

“There is no ground zero as yet.”

Mr Wong said the management of the boutique resort took a 20 per cent pay cut.

“These scenarios we used to see in movies.

“Now it’s our reality.”

Viwa Island Resort is owned by a consortium whose members are from countries that include Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

Vomo Island Resort, Mamanuca Islands

Vomo Island Resort is open retaining all staff members, said general manager Justin King.

“Our owners are keen to keep staff as we involve them in a group of projects that we had in mind, but had put on hold until now.”

Vomo Island Resort, a luxury resort, currently operates with 80 workers, while 60 other employees have opted for reduced rates.

“We gave them an option to stay on the island or go home.

“Fifty per cent chose to stay, however, all are on reduced hours.

“This is a temporary situation and it is our duty as employers to keep as many workers as we can.”

Vomo Island Resort workers moved to other projects around the resort.

Vomo Island Resort workers moved to other projects around the resort.

Wadigi Island Resort

Owner of Wadigi Island Resort Tracy Johnston said key skeletal staff have plans to carry out fishing competitions and go swimming as part of their activities.

The island, an hour off Nadi, has zero occupancies.

Mrs Johnston said they had guests who had planned to spend the isolation period with the staff and management on the island.

“If you have to be in isolation, Fiji is a beautiful destination.

“The trouble was that the borders had shut down.”

Mrs Johnston said three staff members were sent on indefinite leave.

“What’s more important is giving tourists the confidence to travel to a safe destination again.

Mrs Johnston expressed concern over fuel delivery as the island resort depended heavily on fuel for electricity and water reticulation.

She hailed South Sea Cruises for its Tuesday and Friday ferry services to the island group.

“That way we continue to get our stock from the mainland.”

DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Fiji/ Hilton Fiji Beach Resort and Spa, Sonaisali Island

DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Fiji Area General Manager Fiji David Wells said the resort was operating with very limited guest services and facilities in line with the current Fijian government directives.

“To date, we have closed the gym, spa, Kids Club, guest recreation activities and swimming pools,” he said yesterday.

“The resort occupancy has dropped considerably over the past few weeks and the outlook is for extended low demand in the coming months.

“It is difficult to put a number or clear time-frame on the low demand as the global situation is changing so rapidly.”

Among measures put in place to counter the spread of coronavirus, DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Fiji has stepped up its frequency in cleaning public areas around the hotel with the use of hospital-grade disinfectant, Mr Wells said.

“We will continue to adjust food and beverage service in accordance with current food safety recommendations.”

Mr Wells said Hilton Fiji Beach Resort and Spa continued to operate.

“We currently have Maravu Restaurant open serving our guests’ breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“The Deli also remains open for lighter meals at this time.”

Mr Wells said a number of workers were taking the time to use the current period for accrued annual leave and days in lieu owed, coupled with shorter working hours.

“The resort management has also acted responsibly and taken pay cuts similar to several other large organisations impacted by the significant downturn in the tourism and hospitality sector.”

Beachcomber Island Resort, Anchorage Beach Resort, Funky Fish Beach and Surf Resort

Manager Nemia Marama said Beachcomber Island Resort closed on Friday when news broke of Fiji’s first case of coronavirus.

She said there was zero occupancies at the three resorts because the area was within Lautoka’s cordoned zone.

“We’ve only got four workers on the island, just manning and maintaining the island.

“We’re trying to arrange a rotational roster where we can take turns with other workers to come over to the island because we’d like to go home too.

“Through that arrangement, we’ll be giving chances to everyone to earn at least something.

“In cases such as these, it’s the multi-skilled ones that are most needed.”

Ms Marama said a total of 37 workers, from all three resorts, were sent home.

First Landing Resort, Lautoka

First Landing Resort managing director Jim Dunn said they evacuated guests to Nadi airport the day Fiji reported its first case of coronavirus.

He said the resort did everything within its means to retain its 100 workers.

“We did all we could to keep some on a rotational basis.

“Some staff had to pass through the quarantine zone so they had to stay home.

“It’s outside our control.

“We hope the outcome of the 14 day quarantine period will make Fiji safer, not that it will make us a safe tourism destination.”

Mr Dunn said management helped staff members write repayment letters to banks and retail outlets such as Courts, to explain the dire circumstances facing hotels.

“We await a Government announcement (today).

“We want to just get through this period quicker.

“When tourists come back, they won’t have much money to spend.

“We rebound quicker from cyclones than we do from this global virus.”

Grand Melanesian Hotel, Namaka Nadi

Grand Melanesia Hotel has guests from Kiribati who are waiting for a flight back home.

Manager Satya Pillay said all workers were on the company payroll even though the occupancy rate was 55 per cent.

“Not all are at work at the moment.”

Contingency plans will be announced once the last guests leave the Namaka hotel.

Grand Melanesia Hotel has 26 rooms, employs 24 workers, and currently has 30 guests, said Mr Pillay.

Wananavu Beach Resort, Rakiraki

Wananavu Beach Resort closed on Monday this week. Hotel management was seeking approval from the board to make a public comment.

Suncoast Fiji, Rakiraki

Suncoast Fiji, an association of hotels and resorts in Rakiraki, said close to 200 hotel workers were sent home.

Spokesman Simon Doughty said the Ra province and Suncoast Fiji were coronavirus free.

“We as a whole are relatively positive and upbeat.”

He said Rakiraki town was bustling, while supermarkets and fresh produce market were a hive of activity.

“Suncoast is well known for its agricultural produce and as such the people on the Suncoast will remain well-fed.”

Mr Doughty said the group of hotels faced something similar four years ago, although the previous experience was more physical in its damaging nature.

“The Suncoast community banded together then and we are again now.

“Having been through a disaster we know how to work together, stay positive, stay alive and get through this”

Suncoast Fiji members have occupancy across the board appears to be zero per cent.

“We can’t see this changing at least until the end of April at the very earliest,” Mr Doughty said.

The majority of staff and crew were offered reduced hours, including additional staff training opportunities, he said.

“The majority of cases are work two-days per week or take annual leave to help keep every household with some income.

“All employees are guaranteed normal work once our borders re-open and tourism gears up.

“We have unofficially implemented our own 14-day quarantine period, which is primarily for the safety, health and wellbeing of the community at large,” Mr Doughty said.

He said staff were advised and robustly encouraged to re-think social habits such as kava drinking sessions, social distancing and to practice good personal hygiene.

“As hard as it may be, our community must change some of its habits whilst we untidily fight this battle on a united front.”

Mr Doughty said all guest bookings were honoured through most locations for travel at later dates.

“We strongly adapt the #DontCancelPostpone philosophy to support tourism and employment post coronavirus”

He said another positive taken by Suncoast Fiji was a forced opportunity to become more healthy, take a step back and reflect, get mentally and physically fit and ready to welcome customers as soon as borders open.

Marriott International Fiji Resort, Momi Bay

A statement from Marriott International Fiji Resort said they experienced a significant drop in demand with an uncertain duration.

“Immediate contingency action across our hotels includes the implementation of a four-day workweek for our executive committee.

“Working closely with hotel owners, we feel that this solution is the best option for our hotels and our hotel employees in the current climate.”

The statement said individual cancellation fees have been waived for stays through April 30, 2020, for guests from over 27 countries.

“While the ultimate impact is difficult to predict at this time given the fluidity of the situation, we remain confident in our long-term prospects,”

Raffe Hotels and Resorts, Mamanuca Islands and Nadi

Raffe Hotels and Resorts’ own three Fiji hotels and resorts, namely Plantation Island Resort, Lomani Island Resort and Fiji Gateway Hotel.

A company statement said Plantation Island Resort had suspended operations from March 23, 2020, to   May 31, 2020.

“All existing bookings during this period will need to be cancelled and will be allowed to re-book at any time in the next 12 months.

The resort’s phase two redevelopment plans are postponed until further notice, the company statement said.

“We will not accept any new bookings under the “Construction Room” category, all existing bookings in this category will be honoured.

Lomani Island Resort also closed on March 23, 2020, and may reopen on May 31, 2020.

The resort is closed for renovations, the company statement said.

Fiji Gateway Hotel will remain open and fully operational until further notice, Raffe Hotels and Resorts said.

The company said they were left without a choice when major airlines into Fiji suspended operations.

“We will be constantly reviewing the situation over the coming weeks.”

“This has undoubtedly been the most difficult event we could have ever imagined; to be faced with no choice but to suspend our island operations, and for an unknown period of time,” said Raffe Hotels and Resorts chief executive officer Bradley Robinson.

Malolo and Likuliku Resort

Malolo Island Resort staff.

Malolo Island Resort staff.

Malolo Island Resort and Likuliku Lagoon Resort to close end of this month.

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