Beaches Turks Caicos dispute a nuisance for travel advisers

Travel advisers are scrambling to adjust their clients’
vacations plans after Beaches Turks & Caicos announced three closures over
the next two years, the last one being indefinite. 

Ruby Stanfield, owner of Ruby’s Travel in Wayne, N.J., said
she would be up all night on Monday after Beaches made the sudden announcement,
including having to rebook a $75,000, 24-person group booking for October. The
group’s stay was set to begin just after the resort is slated to reopen after
the first closing, but her clients chose to cancel because the reason for the
closing is vague.  

“They’re afraid,” Stanfield said. “They are
scheduled to go for one week a few days after they reopen. We don’t know what’s
going to be there. We can’t promise them everything is going to be up and
running fine. We have no idea.”

Beaches’ parent company, Sandals Resorts International, only
cited “critical and long-standing issues” that have impacted
operations at the resort over the past few years as the reason it will close
from Sept. 3 to Oct. 15, 2019; Sept. 7 to Oct. 22, 2020; and for an indefinite
period starting in January 2021. 

Butch Stewart, SRI founder and chairman, commented on
Instagram that, “Over the last several years, we have made a concerted
effort to resolve critical issues in relation to the operations on the island.
Because we cannot come to a resolution locally, beginning January of 2021, the
resort will close until further notice.” 

Turks & Caicos Premier Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson also
declined to divulge the reason, only saying in statement published in The Sun
newspaper that “it has not been a matter of Beaches avoiding taxes,”
as several Caribbean newspapers reported. She did, however, suggest the dispute
could be resolved, and that the matter has been an issue since the resort
opened in the 1990s. 

Such vague statements did little to ease travel advisers’
concerns, nor did Sandals’ assertion that when the resort is open, guests “will
not impacted by these closures” and “all features and facilities of
the resort will be open and operating per usual.”

Stanfield said one family with a special-needs child canceled
a booking for when the resort is open, suspecting that something is amiss. 

“It’s kind of scary when you hear that it’s a local
problem,” she said. “It’s too uncertain.” 

“Now I’m trying to find another resort with the same
qualities,” she said, adding that it was proving to be difficult. “It’s
hard to replace.”

Linda Welch, president of Blue Ash Travel in Cincinnati and
an all-inclusive resort specialist, voiced similar concern. 

“The all-inclusive resort options on Turks & Caicos
are very limited, so it would be such a shame to not have Beaches Turks &
Caicos as an option for our all-inclusive clients who want to travel there,”
she said.

She hoped that Sandals would ultimately find a way to keep
it open. “I’m sure many guests will be so disappointed to hear of the
closing. The impact of closing such a large complex as Beaches Turks &
Caicos will certainly have an effect on the livelihood of the many, many staff
members living there.”

Sara Newbury, concierge travel consultant with Travel
Leaders of Lewisburg, Pa., said a letter from Unique Vacations senior vice
president of sales Gary Sadler stated that the Beaches Turks & Caicos
closure was necessary due to “unresolved external issues” they are
“experiencing locally in this destination.” Unique Vacations is
Sandals’ sales and marketing arm.

Newbury was sanguine about the situation and called the threat of closures “unfortunate
in nature, but necessary in business.” 

“Beaches still has two great properties in Jamaica —
Beaches Ocho Rios and Beaches Negril,” she said. “They are fantastic,
all-inclusive, family-friendly resorts with several nonstop air options.”

Newbury said she thinks Sandals is handling the
situation well. 

“Beaches has a reputation to uphold and word of mouth
can often sour or deter a guest from a specific property and brand,” she
said. “The company is eager to keep their customer service status within
the travel industry, so they are offering acceptable options for guests who may
be directly impacted.”

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