Layoffs Feared at Old Bahama Bay

There are growing worries among staff at the Old Bahama Bay hotel in West Grand Bahama that their jobs may be on the line, as Ginn is reportedly set to put the property on the market.

While Ginn spokesman Ryan Julison told The Nassau Guardian yesterday he could not confirm such reports, another well placed source said the intention is to sell and focus on the development side of Ginn's operations on the island.

Where that would leave the employees remains unclear at this time.

Member of Parliament for West End and Bimini Obie Wilchcombe said in a statement yesterday the government of The Bahamas must move with haste to save the jobs of the employees of Old Bahama Bay and avoid another major blow to the already struggling economy of West End.

"In my capacity as the representative for the people of West End I have confirmed that the closure of the 71-room Old Bahama Bay resort now sits with the investors and a final decision is imminent," said Wilchcombe, a former minister of tourism.

"The government must meet with Ginn and explore all possible avenues to stave off what could be even more devastating to the economy of West End than the impact of Hurricane Frances when it hit West End in 2004. Old Bahama Bay kept on all of the employees and gave support to each. We have a small window of opportunity to engage in a dialogue with Ginn that could save jobs and allay the fears of the employees of the Old Bahama Bay, all of whom are now deeply concerned about their future and the future of their families."

Wilchcombe added: "We must not wait; we must act with haste. The government has at its disposal a range of options from the deferment of tax considerations to an extension of the same, to ensure that more Bahamians are not forced to tow the unemployment line."

But asked yesterday whether he was aware of any pending closure or sale of Old Bahama Bay, Minister of Tourism Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace said he had heard nothing in this regard.

Vanderpool-Wallace said the last he had heard about Old Bahama Bay is that "they were doing a little better than forecast."

"Nowadays that's the best anyone can say," he said.

Like many hotels around the country, Old Bahama Bay is reportedly suffering from low occupancy levels. According to a source, the owners want to outsource food and beverage and keep the property's marina open, but Ginn officials have not yet made any formal statements in this regard.

Earlier this year, Old Bahama Bay laid off several employees.

At the time, Julison called it an "unfortunate situation".

"However, given the economic downturn, hospitality operations around the world are forced into the same position as we are. This certainly does not reflect our commitment to the property or the resort. It's just the normal course of business operations in an economic downturn. We tried to minimize this as much as possible," he said in January.

"We're committed to our employees."

Any further layoffs in Grand Bahama would worsen an already bad situation.

The island's economy was in the dumps long before the global economic crisis took hold in the second half of 2008. Grand Bahama suffered tremendously from back-to-back hurricanes in 2004 and 2005. The closure of the Royal Oasis Resort and the trickle of visitors in tourist centers are signs of the continued depressed times being experienced on the island.

Grand Bahama's unemployment rate stood at 14.6 percent in February 2009, up from 9 percent in May last year, the highest numbers recorded in 15 years, according to the Department of Statistics.

The department reported last year that there was a growing number of discouraged workers on Grand Bahama — those people who are unemployed, are willing and able to work but have given up looking for jobs because they feel there are none available. Discouraged workers are not considered in the calculation of the unemployment rate and they were not counted in the interim survey conducted in February 2009.

In 2007 over 2006, the rate of discouraged workers in Grand Bahama grew by a mere four percent, according to the Department of Statistics. But in 2008 it grew by nearly 50 percent.

Source: The Nassau Guardian