Beaches, along with a number of its smaller neighbors, confirmed on Sunday that it will be closing for extended periods though 2021 due to an ongoing tax dispute with local authorities. In addition to having to rebook customers, though, travel professionals said they were never notified by Beaches or its parent, and many said it was customers who brought the news to them rather than vice versa.
On Sunday, Beaches confirmed it will close Sept. 3 to Oct. 15, 2019; Sept. 7 to Oct. 22, 2020; and then, beginning January 2021, the resort will be “closed until further notice.” Local newspaper, The Daily Observer, put the tax bill in dispute at $60 million.
Many travel agents said their customers had already heard the news — and they were dismayed to be finding out from their customers rather than from Beaches’ parent company Sandals Resorts.
In a letter to travel agents, Beaches said: “Guests traveling between now and January 2021 that are not impacted by these closures will receive the vacation experience that we have become known for. All features and facilities of the resort will be open and operating per usual. For impacted guests, we are committed to making this as seamless as possible by allowing them to change their travel dates to Beaches Turks & Caicos or travel on their original travel dates to one of our other locations in Jamaica, Beaches Negril or Beaches Ocho Rios, at no additional cost, including airfare change fees. Guests may also choose to travel to any of our 16 Sandals Resorts.”
The long-term effects of the closures “really will depend on whether Sandals really does bail in 2021 and what company takes over the property,” said Ray Goldenberg at Lighthouse Travel. “It will affect current bookings if they defer maintenance due to the abandonment of the property. And it is also hard to believe this will have a positive effect on employee morale.”
And beyond the issue at the property itself, is the way it was communicated, many said.
“I understand there are always issues in these smaller countries regarding taxes, control and labor; I don’t have enough knowledge to weigh in on that. What I will say is the way it was rolled out was irresponsible, at best,” said Jeni Chaffer, owner of Journeys Travel Inc. “I do not have anyone booked during the affected dates but was tagged in a post on a Guest Facebook Group. I then found a post, posted only minutes earlier on the Agents Facebook site, with the statement. By the time I went back to reply, the guests had all kinds of conflicting information from Sandals directly, tour operators and other agents. About an hour later, emails started going out to clients booked during those dates. It was several hours later before I received an email, as an agent, telling me of the closures. This decision was not made overnight and should have been made known to agents prior to contact with guests. And then, to share this information on a busy Friday in January when everyone is already underwater, is frustrating.”
In a statement to TMR, Sandals said "the upcoming closures of Beaches Turks & Caicos are the result of several critical and long-standing issues which have impacted our operations over the past several years. We apologize for any inconvenience caused to our customers and look forward to welcoming them back soon."