Premier David Burt and Opposition Leader Craig Cannonier have engaged in a war of words after the island’s largest hotel confirmed it is closing for 18 months for renovations, putting hundreds of Bermudians out of work.
The 18-month closure of the 593-room Fairmont Southampton resort for renovations – announced eight days before a snap general election, would mean about 750 layoffs, roughly 500 of them Bermudian, and cause “significant hardship for many”, general manager Kiaran MacDonald confirmed on Wednesday.
The mass layoff is thought to be the biggest redundancy in Bermuda.
The move, effective October 23, takes out of commission 25 per cent of Bermuda’s total hotel guest rooms, responsible for up to 30 per cent of air visitors to the island.
Stephen Todd, chief executive of the Bermuda Hotel Association, said the closure “significantly reduces our overall inventory, going into 2021 and beyond”.
He acknowledged the move gave other hotels a chance to increase overall occupancy, but called it “a sobering moment for many of our industry colleagues — it’s not something any of us like to see”.
The ruling Progressive Labour Party’s election platform announced on Tuesday night included a commitment to assist in the redevelopment of the hotel. The premier said on Wednesday the redevelopment showed “great confidence in Bermuda and the next phase of our tourism”.
Burt, who also holds the tourism portfolio, added: “Today’s announcement is one that will signal to investors and our valued tourism stakeholders that Bermuda is determined to emerge stronger following this pandemic.
“We now have the prospect of a new addition to our tourism product, the opportunity for jobs in the construction phase and new opportunities for Bermudian tourism professionals in another signature hotel.”
But Cannonier, the leader of the One Bermuda Alliance, countered by saying that the government needed to say where the laid-off workers would go.
Cannonier added: “We have seen nothing from our government, nothing from our premier that has given any light of hope that they will continue to stimulate the economy to allow these kinds of losses to be made up for.
“There is nothing on the table at all, so these 700 people who represent probably 700 different families are now going to be struggling. This is a challenge that we must face and our Premier needs to stop putting his head in the sand.”
MacDonald said staff were “resigned” to the news, broken at a meeting on Wednesday, which he said marked “a very sad day for all our colleagues, Fairmont Hotels, and indeed Bermuda”.
The 48-year-old south shore hotel, hard-hit by the COVID-19 crisis, is to get a US$100 million refurbishment, with a projected reopening in April 2022. The hotel was sold last December to Gencom, a Miami-based investment and development company for an undisclosed fee.
Gencom said it planned to leave the hotel under the brand and management of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.
Glenn Jones, interim head of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, said the island’s tourism industry would “successfully withstand this extended hotel closure”.
Jones conceded that the loss of jobs, in the short term, “while unsurprising, is unfortunate and painful”.
He added: “A renovated hotel resort with upgraded meeting space, rooms, and amenities, will, however, ultimately be in the best interest of the country and industry.”