The partial closing of the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef Hotel for renovations will leave St. Thomas a little light in the pocket, but Labor officials said Tuesday there is a silver lining.
"The closing of the hotel means less [hotel] room tax dollars, less meals in restaurants, less tours, taxis, etc.," Labor Commissioner Albert Bryan explained Tuesday. "We expect to see an adverse spinoff in the economy. The good news is that this going to happen on the off-season, and they will be prepared to go for the 2011-2012 season."
Starting May 1, a portion of the hotel will be down for renovations for five months, which Marriott General Manager Jose Gonzalez Espinosa had said is necessary to improve the infrastructure, which will help to "reposition" the hotel as one of the premier destinations in the Caribbean.
The hotel has received $50 million from its owners to do the repairs, which range from refurbishing the balconies to installing central air.
But in the meantime, there are going to be some temporary layoffs, which Espinosa has said the Marriott has been meeting with its employees about—and which Bryan said the Labor Department is ready to help with.
The department’s Rapid Response teams, made up of representatives from various government agencies, will be meeting with the employees to provide information about unemployment insurance options, retraining and development of new skills, emergency assistance, housing assistance, resume preparation, child support, health care, insurance and veterans’ assistance.
"We plan to have several seminars on the island to inform employees of training and other services that we have to offer," Bryan explained. "The first sessions will be informational, and as we get closer to the layoff date we will provide the documents to register for unemployment to assure that the transition is as smooth as possible."
Marriott plans to rehire the employees come September, and Labor said Tuesday that Bryan will be meeting with the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association to discuss potential training opportunities that are available during the temporary closing.
Bryan also said Tuesday the goal is to have a similar establishment on St. Croix.
"One of the goals on St. Croix is to have a branded hotel like the Marriot; the reason being is that the hotel has a worldwide presence and an extensive list of return customers," he said. "You couple this with the Marriott rewards program, and you have a steady stream of passengers to the island."