2008-11-13 08:37:16
Tough Decision Taken By Atlantis
Yesterday afternoon George Markantonis, Kerzner International's president and managing director, called together heads of the Bahamas' various media houses to explain how difficult it was to have to lay off 800 employees as occupancy figures kept falling.

"This is one of the toughest things we have ever had to-do," he said. "It is so contrary to everything that we stand for."

A union member grumbled yesterday that only Bahamians were laid off. This is not true, in all Kerzner offices around the world, the same downsizing exercises were being carried out yesterday.

Several employees, who received their termination slips yesterday, blamed the union for not protecting their jobs. The union cannot be blamed, nor can Kerzner International be blamed for a world crisis that has left millions worrying about their lost homes and jobs with no loose cash to think of vacationing in the Bahamas. As sections of Atlantis closed, there was no way that union officials could force the hotel, or the hotel could agree to retain staff to service empty rooms.

The reality of the moment had to be faced. The reality was that hotel management had to start downsizing quickly in order to save the resort and as many jobs as possible.

The union, convinced there was no other way out, wisely sat down with management to make the severance as easy as possible for those who would have to leave. All sides recognise that next year will be what they call in the industry a "soft year." However, there was a ray of hope. So far group bookings - the hotel's core business - were "ahead of pace for 2010."

The resort's occupancy figures for November last year were 70 per cent, this year they had dropped to 48 per cent - a 30 per cent loss.

Up until September this year Atlantis' bookings were strong. Suddenly there was a drop. Hotel management blamed it on Hurricane Ike, believing that when the hurricane had blown itself out of our region, visitor arrivals would pick up and continue as normal, heading toward the bumper season of Thanksgiving when all hotel rooms would be booked. However, when the figures kept falling, Kerzner managers realised they were dealing with something far more sinister than a hurricane. They only had to turn on their television sets to discover the cause - the world's financial markets were collapsing, Americans were losing their homes, and whole communities were jobless as the one major employer in each area closed down. Many small US towns were similar to Inagua with only one employer to turn to. At Inagua it was Morton Salt. In the US, for example, when DHL announced the closure of its hub in Wilmington, Ohio, last week 8,000 employees were out of work. They had no prior warning. DHL the town's largest employer provided jobs for 3,000 of Wilmington's 12,000 population: Its remaining workers were from surrounding communities.

Kerzner's top brass faced with its own problems sat down and crunched figures - figures that kept falling.

Last month, Mr Markantonis told the press that "rumours of layoffs here are not correct." At the time he made that statement, he believed in its truth. "I never believed it would come to this," he said yesterday. But in the last five days there was a drastic plunge and from a projection of 73 per cent occupancy, projections had to be dropped to 64 per cent for 2009.

This meant that staff to cater to an occupancy of 64 per cent would be retained and the others would have to be given their severance pay. He hoped that they can hold this figure. However, the reality is that if occupancy keeps falling - for example to 50 per cent or lower - employment figures will have to again be revised. At present the resort will manage with 7,800 workers.

Kerzner International, in cooperation with the union, has to be commended for doing everything possible to cushion the blow for for those who had to leave.

Severance pay was paid immediately, including the Christmas bonus, and vouchers for the Christmas ham and turkey. All those covered under the company's health care programme were also assured of six months extension. Taxi vouchers were provided for those who had come to work expecting to put in a full day, but had no transport to take them home. Financial counsellors as well as crisis counsellors were present to help all who might need their advice. Work shops have been arranged at the College of the Bahamas to train employees how to conduct themselves for job interviews. They have been recommended to support systems to help them and a hot line has been arranged. Counselling sessions have also been arranged for those who remain at the resort.

As it was explained, yesterday was a hard, an emotional day. "This is a human thing," said Mr Markantonis, "it's about people."

Management hopes that as business picks up many of those highly trained staff will be able to be rehired. But, as the resort watches its figures, unless there is a miraculous change, the light at the end of the tunnel is not expected before 2010.

Editorial from The Tribune
Nassau, Bahamas
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