A COVID-19 outbreak, pissed off customers and a public brawl with the local government.
For a resort chain that promises “a carefree vacation,” Sandals Resorts seems to be distressed.
Earlier this week, the Barbados Department of Health removed Sandals Barbados Resort and Spa from the official “quarantine hotel” list – one of the few places newcomers to the island can stay while awaiting results of two negative PCR tests necessary to move freely around the Island. In a statement, the ministry cited several “verified complaints” of violations of the COVID-19 protocol at the 280-room all-inclusive resort and warned it would take “similar actions” against any other property that does not follow the rules from the island. and regulations. He also announced the arrest of three tourists suspected of violating quarantine rules.
Hours later, the Jamaica-based hotel chain fired back with a personal statement, saying it had been blinded by the government’s announcement. The station said it refuted all allegations of protocol violations in writing and called for a meeting with the health ministry, and was “astonished” to learn of the delisting in the local press.
“We hope that the Minister of Tourism, the Minister of Health and the Chief Medical Officer, who have not yet visited our hotel to see the protocols in force, will be able to give priority to a visit to do so,” said declared the resort in an unusual setting. acerbic statement to Barbados today.
In a statement to the Daily Beast, a spokesperson for Sandals said its resorts in Barbados have an “exemplary record in the industry” and claimed that the allegations against them were not proven. (The Department of Health did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but issued a press release apologizing for implying that tourists avoiding quarantine were somehow linked to Sandals. They didn’t. were not.)
It was not the first time the hotel chain has fought with local government officials. Two weeks earlier, the Ministry of Health of Grenada, a Caribbean island of 111,000 inhabitants, had announced an epidemic of 26 cases originating from the Sandals Resort. Within days, the number of active cases reached 44, doubling the island’s total number of cases since the start of the pandemic. The ministry considered the situation a “health emergency” and quickly issued a 10-person cap on all gatherings, as well as a ban on indoor eating and, in the days that followed, a curfew. at 10 p.m.
While Sandals initially vowed to work with local health officials, it has since opposed government officials. In an open letter issued by several local outlets, Sandals Grenada Managing Director Peter Fraser called reports linking the epidemic to his complex as “totally unfounded” and expressed his “deep disappointment” with government officials. for not having corrected them.
Days later, Sandals Group vice chairman Adam Stewart announced the closure of the resort town of Granada until February 3, blaming the decision not on the outbreak but on the government’s indecision.
“Because the government is starting to change and is not sure how it is going to move forward with its own protocols and tourist entry requirements, we have to wait for them to finalize a plan so we can have a professional conversation about how this is going to affect our customers, our operation and our staff, ”said Stewart.
In a statement to the Daily Beast, the Sandals spokesperson said initial reports of an outbreak in Sandals had “been shown to be inaccurate.” The spokesperson cited a second round of PCR tests that did not result in any positive cases among its 432 employees, and claimed that a number of the initial test results were false positives. Grenada’s public health ministry did not return multiple requests for comment.
Sentiment among locals seemed to be in favor of the chain. A columnist for The new today accused the government of making Sandals a “sacrificial lamb” in its ploy to reopen tourism, and accused them of “press[ing] a panic button when an investigation is in progress and has not yet been completed. Members of the country’s left-wing Democratic National Congress said the government had allowed Sandals to bypass security protocols and called for the immediate resignation of the two ministers directly involved.
Customers, however, directed their anger directly at the channel. In the days surrounding the outbreak, negative reviews started pouring in for the Bermuda and Grenada sites, with customers accusing the resorts of selling them rooms they had not delivered on. An angry customer wrote on TripAdvisor that she paid $ 4,000 for a 4 night stay in a swimming pool, to be downgraded to a “small dimly lit room” with no air conditioning or warning. “I’m all for keeping people safe, but be honest about the service you provide and don’t take money for something you can’t provide. This is below the standard of a 1 star motel room for the price of a 5 star. “
A man, who asked to be identified only as Jim, told the Daily Beast he booked a room at the Grenada resort on December 14, but received no notice of the outbreak which had been announced the day before. Instead, he received a frantic email two days later telling him to contact the resort “immediately.” He said the hotel told him they would no longer be accepting new visitors and that the best they could offer was credit for another location or a 50% refund. (The hotel changed its tone after Jim posted a particularly sharp review on TripAdvisor.)
A Sandals guest named Mike, who also asked to be mentioned only by first name, said he originally booked his honeymoon at the resort town of Granada, but moved to Barbados when the property de Granada was closed. Upon arriving at the airport, he said public health officials told him he and his wife had passed the wrong test and should self-quarantine on hotel property until they can get new tests. When he arrived at Sandals, however, resort staff informed them that they would be confined not only to hotel property, but to their room – much smaller accommodation with no ocean or pool views. . After spending less than 24 hours in complete isolation, Mike and his wife decided to pack their bags and leave.
The most frustrating thing about the whole experience, Mike said, was the conflicting information from the station and the government.
“We didn’t know, do we believe the government or do we believe Sandals?” he said. “I understand, they have rules to follow, [but] my wife and I were just like, ‘This is not worth the money we spent to be here.’
In a statement, a spokesperson for Sandals said the company prides itself on having the highest customer return rate in the industry, and noted that more than 90% of Sandals Barbados and Sandals Grenada customers share reviews. positive on TripAdvisor.
Jim, upon further reflection, admitted that it was “probably really a really stupid idea in the first place to imagine that I could really get out of it.” He said he and his wife, who works in the medical field, were planning to postpone their vacation after being vaccinated. But he wouldn’t book it with Sandals.
“I think that was an absolutely ridiculous way to handle it,” he said in a telephone interview. “It would have been very easy to offer and process a refund in advance. I wouldn’t have felt bad about them. Now I am confident that I will never book another trip with them. “
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