Hotel closure concerns Brac community

With 37 losing their jobs on Cayman Brac, through the closure of Divi Tiara Beach Resort, the community is concerned for the economy of the island.

Hotel closure

Foots, left, and Craig Burhart at the closed up dock at Divi Tiara. Photo: Cliodhna McGowan

There will be a trickle down effect throughout the community, say residents.

The 71-room hotel’s closure was announced last Friday and staff’s employment terminates on 23 September. Parent Company Divi Resorts announced ‘economic realities’ as reasons for the closure.

‘People are very concerned. For a small island for 40 people to be unemployed is scary,’ said Trudy Viers, manager of the island’s other hotel, the Brac Reef Beach Resort.

Cayman Brac has a population estimated to be between 1,200 and 1,500 people.

Divi Tiara, having employed 37, had been one of the biggest employers on the island along with the other hotel.

This week, Divi Tiara was like a ghost resort, with rooms boarded up and the doors sandbagged, but this is also because it was scheduled to close for a month anyway, for a maintenance period during slow season.

Some staff members were on property this week discussing their futures and absorbing the news they first heard on Friday, that they were out of jobs.

A few employees have worked at the property for as long as 20 years.

Ron Morin has been there since 1989. He was Food and Beverage manager and is now actively seeking alternative employment. With four children, he will have to return to Canada if he cannot find work.

Craig Burhart, who worked in the dive shop for less than a year, but has been on the Brac for eight years, calls the closure sad.

He does admit that Divi Tiara was right to close if it was not making money. However, he thought staff members would have been written personal letters thanking them for their service, he said, especially those there a long time.

The trickle down effect will be felt, he asserts. With 30 to 40 less tourist divers a week on the island and nearly 40 residents out of work, it would have to, he said.

Retail Supervisor at Marketplace, Gail Esson agrees. The community is concerned with nearly 40 wage packets cut from the economy. Everyone will feel it, she said.

The store will also miss the tourists from the resort, who used to come in and make purchases. ‘We’re concerned. We expect to see a difference in the coming weeks,’ she said, adding that the store occasionally provided produce to Divi Tiara.

Mr. Burhart said people will be displaced because of this closure, notably some of the expatriates.

‘Some have been here seven or eight years and invested in homes,’ he said.

The artist known as Foots also worked there. He is the mastermind behind the underwater Atlantis dive attraction off the coast of the island and had been doing maintenance work at the hotel.

The closure breaks his heart, he said, noting the many people who had been long-term at the hotel. ‘It’s the end of an era,’ he said.

Because he is self-sufficient for income, it is the other staff members he feels for.

But both men believe someone will buy the property and put it to good tourism use.

Mr. Burhart said, ‘I think for the most part the people (staff) here a long time are optimistic. Cayman Brac is a passion. We’re here because we want to be. There’s something magical about this place’.

When asked if she perhaps could accommodate some of the displaced staff at her resort, Manager of the Brac Reef Beach Resort, Ms Viers says she has no plans to expand her staff, but obviously if Caymanians are qualified to do certain jobs filled by expatriates then they will be prioritised.

Commenting on the fact that the parent company of Divi Tiara, Divi Resorts included high prices as reasons for having to close, she acknowledged that like any business in Cayman, a hotel is expensive to run. Increased expense such as electricity, water and insurance make it so. They also cited airlift as a challenge. Flights to other destinations such as Cozumel, are cheaper and so they constantly need to work on attracting people to Cayman Brac, she admitted.

However, she said the two hotels are very different. Hers is a family-owned hotel (the Tibbetts from the Brac), with a very hands on approach, while Divi Tiara is corporation owned.

Meanwhile, Ms Viers said there have been a lot of visitors to her resort so far this year, with numbers a little better than pre-Ivan. She noted how important the Cayman Airways jet service is for business.

In the short term the Brac Reef Beach Resort may benefit from the closure, as some customers who had already been booked in to Divi Tiara are being transferred there, as well as to condos such as Carib Sands on Cayman Brac and to properties on Little Cayman.

But for the long term the hotel is a big loss, Ms Viers said.

It leaves only 40 hotel rooms on the island, where there had been over 100 between the two.

Todd Grant of Cayman Brac Rental Cars said the unemployment now on the island is the biggest problem in the short term.

The absence of Divi Tiara could have an effect on business, but he believes that those who want to visit the Brac will not be discouraged. The Brac Reef Beach Resort is a good dive resort, he said, and there are some condos and private guest houses for short term rental also.

Maybe it will open other doors for other rental accommodations, he said.

‘It will take time, but hopefully we’ll get through,’ he said.

General Manager of Divi Tiara Max Hillier said he has not received information yet from the parent company on what the situation is for those who had timeshares at the resort.

Anyone with queries is being encouraged to call 1-800-367-3484.

A web group forum for Divi Tiara timeshare owners has also been formed by an owner. Visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/D-TOG/

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