Relief and optimism despite hotel closures

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The boss of Cayman’s biggest resort says he and his staff are “blown away” by the “unprecedented” gesture from owner Dart Enterprises to cover staff salaries through the expected duration of the coronavirus crisis.

Marc Langevin, general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, said he’d had sleepless nights since the beginning of the epidemic over how he could keep staff employed.

Speaking from the empty lobby of the five-star hotel on Wednesday, Langevin said his staff could breathe easy knowing their salaries were covered for 10 weeks as part of Dart’s support package.

“I still can’t find the words of appreciation. It is an amazing package,” he said. 

Langevin said the decision had taken a weight off the shoulders of all of the senior management at the resort.

Ritz Carlton manager Marc Langevin at the almost empty hotel Wednesday. – Photo: Alvaro Serey

He said they could now focus on seeing how they can help the community, as well as positioning the hotel and Cayman’s tourism product to reopen swiftly, once the crisis passes.

Dart has put similar measures in place at all its hotels, which include the Comfort Suites and the Kimpton Seafire Resort, to ensure staff can be paid, even with no guests coming in. The Westin Grand Cayman has done the same for its staff during the air-travel closure, which starts Sunday and runs for an initial three weeks.

Langevin said hotels were laying off staff all over the world in response to the coronavirus pandemic which has paralysed global travel.

“We have an owner that is fully invested and understands that if we want to rebound fast and furious, we need those ladies and gentlemen and that leadership team that has made the resort a success.

“It is an amazing, mature and generous position that they took. Now I can start to think more positively about how we rebound,” Langevin added.

He said he was walking around the hotel with “new eyes” considering protocols, including electric doors, that could make guests safer in the new world of intense hygiene and social distancing. 

He believes Cayman has an opportunity to come through the coronavirus crisis quickly and establish new measures and new protocols that make guests feel safe. And he is confident that guests will want to come back.

“I have no doubt that there are people waiting behind the door right now,” he said.

Cayman Airways will give the country a competitive advantage when it is time to rebound, he believes, by bringing passengers from whichever areas are cleared for safe travel.

Running on empty: The Ritz Carlton closes Sunday and most guests have left already. – Photo: Alvaro Serey

Right now, Langevin said, his main focus was his staff and the wider community.

He praised the swift action and “amazing maturity” of Cayman’s leadership and the moral principles behind the decisions, despite the economic risk.

“What they did inspired me,” he added.

“It is impacting my own leadership to understand there is a sense of morality. Business is important and I love to do businesses but every day we all have to think, what is the right thing to do.”

The hotel currently provides a meal a day to its staff and will reconfigure its kitchen and health protocols to continue to do so. Langevin is looking at ways to expand that to a wider community, potentially including children who depend on school meals.

“We are blessed to be able to survive in a decent manner and now the question is how we give back,” he said, adding, “We are in it together, how do we go through it and become a stronger society?”

He said Hurricane Ivan had been a disaster for the country but had brought people together and left him with fond memories of how people shared and cared for each other.

For the wider public, he said, it was about trusting government’s decisions and following the guidelines to the letter.

He said people had to make sacrifices, but it was not the same as Ivan when there was no water or power.

“It is going to take sacrifice. You have to stay home, watch Netflix and eat ice cream… that is the sacrifice we are asking people to do and it is manageable.”

Full coverage: Coronavirus

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  1. Other suggestions:
    Give employers a rebate on the work permit fees while these employees can’t work. These are mostly low pay workers in the hospitality industry so not very expensive permits.

    Allow those work permit holders, just for a few weeks, to do jobs outside their defined permission. For example: Shop for and deliver groceries to people.