Hotels will lose more money by reopening than they would if they remained closed this year, a leading hotelier said.
David Dodwell, president of The Reefs, said this view was the consensus of a group of hoteliers from medium-sized properties who met yesterday.
Speaking in a webinar hosted by the Bermuda Tourism Authority, Mr Dodwell said: “Frankly speaking, the maths is against us opening those hotels.
“There’s no question about it; we will lose money. The considered opinion of the group that met this morning is that we will lose more if we’re open than if we’re closed.”
He said the group, which included representatives of Cambridge Beaches, Pompano Beach, Newstead, Coco Reef, The Reefs, The Loren at Pink Beach, Rosewood Tucker’s Point and Coral Beach & Tennis Club, represented about 600 rooms.
BTA statistics show that only 234 of the island’s approximately 2,500 hotel rooms are expected to open to guests by July 19. By August 1, a total of 1,847 rooms are expected to be available.
While hoteliers’ economic decisions were driven by air capacity and the demand for rooms, Mr Dodwell said, there was a human decision as well, which involved hotels doing right by their employees, who had been laid off for months.
He added: “We recognise that we have to push ahead, but the challenge is getting the customer to come.”
Bermuda’s strict protocols for visitors, involving Covid-19 tests three to five days before departure, another test on arrival, more tests while on island and a requirement for twice-a-day temperature checks, were “the strictest in the world” and were turning off prospective tourists, he added.
Mr Dodwell said: “To be frank, some of these restrictions are onerous and people are voting with their feet and their wallets, and they’re not coming.
“This group of hotels has experienced a large number of cancellations.
“When we get calls from people who are interested and we describe the protocols, they say, ‘I’m not coming’.
“It’s a big issue. Not being negative, we understand it, but it does have a big impact.”
Citing the Premier’s remark that “we can’t let the economic impact be worse than the disease”, Mr Dodwell added: “Another way to put it is that we could win the battle, but lose the war.”
His comments came after the Rosedon Hotel announced on Saturday that it would be closing until next year and would make all of its staff redundant.
At last night’s government news conference, David Burt, the Premier, said the Government had to balance decisions carefully while recognising tourism’s importance as an employer.
Mr Burt said: “Yes it is certainly a concern, but that is why we are going to continue our work through making sure that we keep our country safe and promoting the safeness of our country to our tourism partners and we believe that in the end it will be a strategy that will be successful.
“We are not going to cut corners and risk the sacrifice that the country has worked for to have only two active cases and the hard work we have done to get us to this point. We are not going to sacrifice that.”
Mr Burt said July would be a difficult month with only 8 per cent of the air lift seen last year, but August would be better as more airlines restart services.
“We will look to have more capacity coming to our island and support our hotel properties, but absolutely they are going to examine that and they are going to make the best decisions in the interest of their business and the Government will be there to support people,” Mr Burt said. “Bermudians will not go hungry in this country while I lead it.”
Aideen Ratteray-Pryse, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Tourism and Transport, said in the webinar that some other islands also required negative pre-departure Covid-19 tests for visitors, including St Lucia, Bahamas, Cyprus and Antigua & Barbuda, which had originally opened without this requirement.
David Kendell, Director of the Department of Health, said the Government had received advice on the value of pre-departure tests from Public Health England last Friday.
“Apparently, just testing someone on arrival will catch about 7 per cent of the cases coming into the country,” Mr Kendell said. “If you couple that with a pre-departure test, then you capture 75 per cent of the cases that could come into the country.”
Mr Dodwell said: “Generally speaking, the Caribbean islands are less onerous than us and that’s why you’re seeing airline service going there.”
He also referred to reports that tourists had threatened to sue the Government of Antigua & Barbuda over its right to perform Covid-19 nasal tests and its right to hold visitors in quarantine for 14 days after they tested positive.
This had prompted the islands to change tack on protocols and require pre-departure tests.
“We in the hospitality industry need absolute clarity as to what happens in each of these circumstances,” Mr Dodwell said. “We are struggling now with what to tell the client on the phone.”
For example, if someone tested positive on arrival would they be quarantined in their room or on the hotel property?
Who would pay the cost for someone who tested positive during their stay and required quarantine?
“If they’re here for 14 days, then it appears that the hotel must absorb the cost of keeping them in that room after what should have been checkout,” Mr Dodwell said.
“Also what is our liability, in terms of public liability insurance, when we have guests that don’t have it in the hotel with guests who do?”
He said hoteliers would welcome talks with health ministry officials to gain clarity on what they should do in certain scenarios. Last night, Kim Wilson, the health minister, said that visitors would be required to agree to meet the costs of an extended stay, should they have to be quarantined.
And she made clear that quarantined guests would have to stay in their rooms.
Cheryl Peek-Ball, the Chief Medical Officer, said it was important that protocols for visitors who test positive while on island were sorted out.
“There are a huge number of logistical matters still to be worked out,” Dr Peek-Ball said. “If we don’t work them out, we could very quickly have community spread and our health system will be impacted in a dire way.
“We’re as eager as anyone to have the conversation with those in the tourism sector.”