The Divi Tiara Beach Resort on Cayman Brac has closed its doors for good.
The 71-room resort has now officially been shut down after an announcement on Friday, with employment terminated on 23 September. It has cited economic reasons for closure.
Thirty seven employees (22 of which are Caymanians) now find themselves out of work and this, according to General Manager Max Hillier, is where the heartache for him lies.
‘We spent five years nurturing a team in order to create an unbelievable tourist experience.
‘The resort closing is a major issue. Concern for the future of the staff is what makes it heartbreaking.’
However, despite the tragedy of these people losing their jobs all of a sudden, Mr. Hillier firmly believes there is light at the end of the tunnel.
While he said he has no idea what is actually in store for the property, his hope is that it will be purchased and turned into a high end resort where the price of staying there matches that of the airfare.
‘I believe that someone with a passion will buy it and make it realise its full potential. Then the staff who worked so diligently here will be welcomed back and it will turn into something wonderful,’ he said.
This, he said, would not only be the light for the staff and the resort, but for the tourism economy of Cayman Brac.
The Brac Employment Relations Officer Sandra Solomon has been ‘incredible’ in her dedication to the staff, he said. She spent five hours at the resort on Friday giving guidance to employees.
Mr. Hillier has heard that some people have good leads on new jobs.
Although, he said, the issue of the resort closing down has been a discussion point for years, it was, indeed, a shock when it was suddenly announced on Friday.
An official press release from parent company Divi Resorts says, ‘The decision to close the resort was based on certain economic realities of continuing a dive-oriented resort on Cayman Brac including problems with airlift, which has affected dive guests in particular who need to bring additional gear for their sport; increased competition from a growing number of niche market dive destinations throughout the Caribbean; and weather which in the past years has created real and perceived concerns about travel to the Cayman Islands.
‘Issues related to weather have also pushed up insurance costs too high for coverage and ever increasing levels proposed for the future.’
With regard to airlift Mr. Hillier said although Cayman Express has put on extra inter-island flights, these seats had a tendency to fill up very fast with residents.
Also, Cayman Brac is not as accessible as many other destinations in the Caribbean, he said.
Fierce competition in resorts had caused a price for accommodation to be charged that did not match the expense of airfare, he said.
The closure of the hotel is a huge blow to the economy, he said. The ripple effect is already being felt, he said. It hits everything down to properties that were being rented to the grocery stores where employees shop.
His main short term concern is for the staff and how they will fare. He is also concerned for the many vendors he dealt with, who helped to build up the business.
But Mr. Hillier said he has received confirmation from the parent company that all staff will be paid every penny they are owed and that the vendors will get any payments due to them.
The Divi Resorts release says that it and Divi Tiara are very grateful for the service from its staff and all others that worked side by side with the resort over its many years in operation.
Cayman Islands Tourism Association President Karie Bergstrom said the organisation feels the closure is very unfortunate for Cayman Islands’ tourism and in particular for Cayman Brac that a major hotel had to close there.
She noted that the parent company had cited increasing costs and competition in the Caribbean as reasons for closure.
Ms Bergstrom’s recent address at the annual Tourism Conference referenced the high costs of doing business in the Cayman Islands and some of the challenges with airlift here.
The closure also came at a time when Divi Resorts are building a new development in Aruba.
‘It’s very unfortunate for Cayman Brac, and particularly the people who worked at the resort. Our thoughts go out to them,’ said Ms Bergstrom.