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Tourism sector in dire straits

The Resort at Sandals has been identified as crucial for the re-emergence of the tourism industry on the island

A top hotel manager on the island has said that she does not see any immediate positive signs on the horizon that the industry will be back up and running in the near foreseeable future as Covid-19 continues to sweep across the world.

The hotelier who spoke to THE NEW TODAY on conditions that she was not identified said that there is hardly anything happening with flights from the major source markets that provide Grenada with the bulk of its visitors.

“We got to accept that for the next 2 to 3 months it will be extremely quiet in terms of international travel. It will be so until the vaccine starts rolling out especially in the major source markets like the United States,” she said.

“We just got to hold our breaths for the next four months and see what happens – we can’t do more than that. I think that if we could only see through this year we should be on the road to recovery by November. We just got to survive it until then,” she added.

According to the hotel manager, the next couple months are going to be very tough for the tourism sector and for the country as job losses over the past ten months will continue in the industry.

She pointed out that the re-opening of the Sandals/La Source resort in the south of the island will be crucial in the next few weeks ahead for the tourism industry in Grenada.

“I think it will help all of us to get Sandals back open again,” she remarked.

The Keith Mitchell-led administration ordered the internationally-branded hotel to close after a Covid-19 cluster of cases was allegedly discovered at the resort in December.

A family of thirteen including one female staffer at Sandals who live in the rural village of Post Royal in St. Andrew had tested positive for the deadly virus.

The female hotel manager said that once Sandals is open for business it is guaranteed that the airlines will continue to fly into the Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA) and bring whatever little visitors are coming on holiday and for other purposes.

“With Sandals closed they will stop flying – it is as simple as that,” she added.

According to the hotel official, it is important for Sandals to get their Covid-19 protocols together so that it can become acceptable to the Ministry of Health to give them the greenlight to re-open for business.

She was optimistic that with Sandals reopening for business it will help the island “to get through this (uncertain period in the industry) reasonably well”.

She said that Sandals normally employs 400 to 500 persons even with minimal occupancy which means in effect that about 2000 persons in households in Grenada are getting benefits from the salaries of those workers.

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In addition, she pointed to the spin-off effect for those ancillary businesses that get support from the island’s largest hotel.

“It is really critical that Sandals be given the opportunity to open up again so we get the flights back in,” she said.

As regards the new Covid-19 protocols to be put in place by government for hotels to follow, the female hotelier said she has not seen it in writing but said that it is for the Mitchell government itself to disclose to the public the exact nature of these protocols for the tourism industry.

According to the hotelier, she understands that there will be “far more robust testing” of persons for the virus especially among the staff “on a much more regular basis and they will be testing the guests if they are staying longer than a certain time”.

“I think the protocols that they (government) proposed – they are looking more robust prior to the last ones. To get the exact protocols you will have to call them (Ministry of Health) up,” she said.

Health Minister Steele was approached by THE NEW TODAY via WhatsApp on where a list with the protocols for the hotels can be found, he read the message but did not reply.

The female hotelier sided with claims made by Sandals that it was the resort and not the Ministry of Health that was pushing for Covid-19 testing at the international hotel that was embroiled in an exchange of words with the Mitchell-led government in December on who is to be blamed for the cluster of Covid-19 cases discovered at the resort.

“I tend to believe Sandals. I know (General Manager) Peter Fraser pretty well and he’s not a dishonest man at all. If he says something it is usually true,” she said.

According to the hotelier, she gets the sense that Sandals “is eager to reopen” to the world once again for business.

“They want to open and quite frankly the industry needs to have them re-open because without them we’re going to lose all our airlines.

She highlighted the fact that American Airlines is currently flying into the island with an average of 10-12 persons on each flight.

“My gut feeling is that American will pull back to one or two flights a week very shortly,” she remarked.

AA is reportedly doing more cargo business than with passengers at the moment in flying in at the Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA).

JetBlue and American are the only two international airlines still flying into the airport at Point Salines.