The more than 30 guests at Buccament Bay Resort on Wednesday had their already bad vacation turn into the ultimate nightmare as the state-owned electricity company, VINLEC, disconnected power at the one-time five-star resort for non-payment.
The disconnection of the electricity is the latest in a string of problems to hit the resort, where workers have been striking for more than a week over the non-payment of wages.
It came two days after a British court ordered accounting firm, Wilkins Kennedy, to pay the resort owner’s — Harlequin, their former client, US$11.6 in damages — about a quarter of what it had sued for.
The judge, who said Harlequin’s business model had elements of a scam, also said the damages should not be paid to the company in light of the many claims against it.
Speaking to iWitness News on Wednesday, Thornley Myers, chief executive officer of VINLEC, the country’s sole commercial supplier of electricity, confirmed that the resort was disconnected from the grid for non-payment.
He, however, declined to say how much was owed, telling iWitness News that doing so would breach confidentiality, adding that that is the company’s policy with any of its clients.
Myers told iWitness News that VINLEC’s decision to disconnect Buccament Bay Resort was not taken lightly and that his company hopes that the resort can find a way to make the necessary payments to keep its doors open.
“The fact is, no decision like this is ever taken lightly,” Myers said. “The resort is a place of employment that brings in revenue and is an important symbol for tourism in the country. These decisions are never taken lightly and all sorts of things are taken into consideration, besides payment.”
He said the decision to disconnect the resort is something that VINLEC has deliberated on for some time and further told iWitness News that the public might not know that the resort has been disconnected several times in the past.
Myers said VINLEC was aware that the disconnection comes at a time when it has been reported in the media that staff at the resort have not been made. He said that if the resort remains open, there is hope for the workers being paid — suggesting that the decision to disconnect the electricity illustrates the extent of the monies owed to VINLEC.
Meanwhile, the complaints about the service at the resort over the past few weeks continued after the disconnection on Wednesday. “It’s been pretty shabby,” Carol Banks of the United Kingdom said of her experience since arriving at the resort last week Monday for a two-week stay for which she and her husband, Ron, had paid almost 4,000 brutish pounds.
“Today, we were told absolutely nothing about the power going down and we’ve had to come and find information for ourselves,” she further said in an interview with Searchlight newspaper.
“We don’t know where we are going, we don’t know when we are going. Everything is just down and we’ve been left clueless, really,” she said.
The couple said they did not know where they would spend Wednesday night, adding that at first they were told the resort will get them a hotel in Barbados, but were later told that they would have to book a hotel there themselves.
Ron was concerned that they would very well end up on their own at the airport in Barbados, even as the resort has not told them anything about a refund.
The couple booked their end-of-year vacation in April and when they inquired of their travel agency before setting off, they were told the only issue at the resort had been the weather.
“They didn’t tell us anything about the staff not being here, about the restaurant not being opened, so we didn’t know anything until we got here,” they said, adding that the staff have done their best.
The resort has been running on a skeletal staff as some 70 employees have stayed away from their posts after not being made for almost three months. At the same time, Dave Ames, a Britain-born naturalised Vincentian who is chair of Harlequin, fled St. Vincent in June as prosecutors summoned him to court on tax evasion and theft charges, related to the non-payment into the state coffers of workers PAYE and social security deductions.
The Banks stressed that they have not been able to see St. Vincent because of the situation at the resort, adding that they would have gone on an excursion if one were available.
They said they might stay in the country for their remainder of their vacation — which ends Monday — if they find a hotel. If they can’t find a hotel, they will go to Barbados, but said they could not envisage Buccament Bay Resort being able to find them a hotel room in Barbados, and feared that they might end up camping out in the airport before returning to the United Kingdom.
American Marton Browne threatened legal action after his vacation for which he paid US$2,000 was ruined. He, however, noted that with the long list of claims against the resort, his might feature very low on the list. Browne said he arrived on Monday to find only a skeletal staff. He woke up Wednesday morning to find out that there was no electricity.
Guests were told that it was a maintenance problem, Browne said, adding that he later learnt that the owner of the resort is “a crook” that he didn’t pay his electricity bill. “We are forced to leave the island 2,000 out of money,” he said, referring to the sum he paid for the vacation. He said the owners of the resort “just ripped off a bunch of nice people, ruined people’s vacation…
“Worst of all, it will leave a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths about St. Vincent. And you, the population of St. Vincent had absolutely nothing to do with it.”
Browne said that because there was no electricity at the resort, the skeletal staff, who have been “so nice” during his stay could not do anything to help with arranging flights and the like. To add insult to injury, he and his companion have to pay for a change their flights back to Barbados.
“The whole thing is insane. Somebody had to know about this,” he said.
The couple said they did not know about the situation at the resort until they arrived at E.T. Joshua Airport, and it was too late to turn around. Browne said he would like to see the local police find Ames and hold him responsible for what he has done.
“Right now, my feeling is I will never come back to St. Vincent. I will never put my foot back here because of what happened. And it is not fair to you. It is not fair to the public because you had nothing to do with it.”
Browne said he planned the trip three weeks ago and was scheduled to stay at the resort from Dec. 12 to 19, but would not even make a call to regional airline LIAT to try to make a flight change, because the phones at the resort don’t work without electricity.
He said he did not understand how something like what is going on at the resort happens, especially in the high season when the Caribbean depends on tourism.
Browne said they were looking forward to the great time they say on the internet.
“It has been the exact opposite. We lost money, time, effort; extremely disappointing. So, again, I hope that the police and the government somehow bring this guy to justice. I don’t think we are going to be remunerated. I really don’t think so.”
He said it would be a really good idea to put something in place to ensure that such a situation doesn’t happen again.
“I wished we had known. We came in good faith, we had no prior knowledge and we just really got screwed,” said Browne, who told Searchlight the development was “more than disappoint and upsetting and financially devastating.
“We saved up for vacation. Christmas time’s supposed to be a happy time of the year.”
He said they could have stayed in Barbados but decided to try another Caribbean island.
He said that in they future, before going to any Caribbean island he will inquire about his hotel, even if he had to call media houses to confirm that there are no issues there.
I am sure the Canadian investors at Peters Hope are taking a hard look at the Buccament Resort situation. I cant imagine they would go ahead, unless they want to hide some money offshore. SVG and Vincentian workers were used to accommodate some criminal activities. They gained nothing from this entire episode, but have lost its reputation that SVG. The workers, 4 more years of Labour Love has just hit them in their pocket book.
It’s more complicated than this:
1. Our mainland can only attract two- and three-tier hotel investors, not tier-one like Sheraton or Sandals.
2. The PM was desperate to get any investor for Buccament as an excuse to promote Argyle airport.
3. Pace Developments who bought the land at Mt. Wynne looks like a legitimate enterprise but has no hospitality or overseas experience. But we beggars simply can’t be choosers when it come to investors.
With no electricity and no in-house security, the resort is the perfect place for robberies, rape, vandalism, and looting.
Has the resort now been secured by our police force? If not, why not since any of the above actions would adversely affect our already troubled tourism industry and put the lives of guests to our country in jeapardy.
My understanding is that Ames has a skeleton staff securing the site. Hopefully, this includes overnight security personnel, preferably off-duty or retired police with more experience than ordinary security guards, to ensure that the resort is not vandalized, looted, or burned to the ground by justifiably enraged unpaid (former) employees.
The resort’s cottages contain hundreds of thousands of dollars of valuable (and saleable) items — furniture, TVs, toilets, sinks, etc. — and much more valuable equipment and furnishings in the various buildings that would also fetch big money on the black market.
Both the resort and the government of SVG have a duty to secure all this property from thieves to protect its rightful owners.
I wonder how many of these tourists will return to St Vincent in the future? It looks like this resort is going to kill what little tourism there is in SVG. Time for the government to step-in in a meaningful way to try stem all these bad news coming out of SVG.
Sadly, it is difficult to imagine that any of them would return; why on earth should they? And it is not only “these tourists” who will not return; it is anyone who reads any of the big internet reviewing platforms, such as Trip Advisor or Expedia. In the past few days, Trip Advisor has been literally swamped with negative and appalled reviews from guests about their Buccament experiences, detailing everything from moldy tiles in the pools to toilets that didn’t work to the absence of even a bottle of Hairoun in any of the bars if and when the bars were open.
But even the most negative commentary mentions the extraordinary efforts of the skeletal staff to “make do” with what they were able to offer. Based on my decades-long experience in SVG, this does not surprise me at all. Vincentians are accustomed to “making do”… And, yes, the recent dreadful weather has certainly exacerbated difficulties throughout the country.
Nevertheless, what galls visitors the most is the lack of information, or any apparent concern whatsoever, from management or any “official” who might be able to assist them in some way. The sorry decline of this particular resort, for whatever reasons, is certainly unfortunate, but should not be seen as an isolated incident. Visitors see it as an example of apparent complete disregard by “those in charge” not only of the experience of guests, but of the well-being of the entire populace of the country, as well. It is hard to make any case that they are wrong.
It breaks my heart to see these things happening…
Yes, but it seems the government does not care that much. Since the Vincentian people believe any excuse the government gives, the government believes the world will also believe any excuse. Remember when the German was killed on his yacht? Our PM said to the press: “This normally does not happen here.” Saying that SVG is a safe country. We know different.
I remember that incident well. It made a particular impression on me since my first several visits to SVG were on charter sailboats. I also remember long conversations with a successful entrepreneur in Villa about his never-ending concern for the safety and convenience of the “yachting community” who were such a big part of his business, and of so many other businesses on the islands. Safety enforcement was only minimally provided by any “official” entity; as it seems is so often the case in SVG, yachting visitors must rely on the concern of private citizens for their safety and services. Anyone who has ever visited SVG is well aware of the great resourcefulness, generosity, and genuine eagerness to welcome and accommodate guests that motivates most Vincentians, but their efforts would be so enhanced by visible, organized, and reliable assistance from more of those who so proudly proclaim the importance of the “tourism industry”! (BTW, I have personally known and worked with many members of the SVGTA in the past, and am well aware that many shared these concerns, as well. My informal involvement with them concluded, very amicably, more than ten years ago.)
My estimate is that the closing of the resort on Wednesday instantly reduced our mainland hotel capacity by over 13 percent.
A lot of people will claim that the failure to complete the Argyle airport was instrumental in the demise of the resort.
This is nonsense. Any sensible person who spends a few minutes perusing judge Coulson’s findings would quickly see that this house-of-cards resort was bound to fail anywhere in the world it was built.
I very sincerely hope that this most unfortunate situation has already been quickly remedied, and the guests whose holidays were disrupted have been offered at least some word of concern from the management and/or the SVGTA for this “inconvenience.”
I do not know how utility cutoffs are traditionally handled in SVG, and whether or not this shutdown could have been anticipated and somehow avoided, through some sort of interim arrangement between state-owned VINLEC and the resort management. An unavoidable “slip-up,” or even staff slowdowns, are often understood, and even forgiven, by visitors.
But the sudden suspension of an essential service, such as electricity, occurring apparently without warning or explanation to guests, will not be treated as a simple “mistake,” or even the result of a justifiable “protest,” by those affected nor should anyone expect that it would be.
Sadly, this is a blow not only to the “tourism sector,” and to these particular visitors, but to all Vincys who love their country and work so diligently and ceaselessly to offer their guests their friendship, kindness, generosity, and boundless warmth. It is a great shame it was allowed to happen, whatever the “reason.”
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