Willowbank is closing its doors after 50 years. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
Willowbank is closing its doors after 50 years. *Photo by Kageaki Smith

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30: Staff working at Willowbank feared that the writing was on the wall for the hotel after a series of poor summer seasons.

A total of 46 employees will be made redundant when the Sandys hotel closes its doors on November 30.

They now face the unenviable task of finding new work at a time when jobs are hard to come by.

Workers told the Bermuda Sun that although they could understand the reasons for the decision many had been left disheartened and saddened by the closure.

A member of staff who has worked at Willowbank for several years said: “We can understand why the decision has been taken given the economic times.

“We have certainly felt the pinch and the pressure.

“People are still working and we are supporting each other. We are just trying to get on.

“It’s certainly not going to be easy for us to find new jobs.

“Some people had been saying they thought this closure was a long time coming.

“But it is hard and it is sad that it has come to this.

“It has been very quiet over the last few summers so you can understand the predicament.”

One long-time staff member said the announcement the hotel was closing was not a complete shock.

“It’s numbing. There was speculation that Willowbank could close, but we (the staff) felt the mission would override the bottom line of dollars and cents. But still, to find out you’ve lost your job is disheartening.

“It’s not the best job market to go and try to find work elsewhere. Hopefully we’ll be able to find employment in some of the other hotels.”

Another staff member said: “I’m not upset. If God has closed this door, He will open another one for me.

“It’s not the end of the world. Romans 8:28 says: ‘We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.’

The staff person added: “Something good will come out of this.”

The decision to close Willowbank after more than 50 years in business was made public on Wednesday.

The chairman of the board of trustees that runs the hotel, Fernance Perry, said that the decision to close had only been taken after “lots of thought and discussion”.

He added: “The reason it was not done sooner was because we had always taken into consideration our valued employees and the hardship it would put on each of them.

“In going forward in the future, the trustees would like to make it known that they have no plans to sell or lease the property.

“We are praying that God will give a clear vision of what Willowbank should be used for.

Maintenance

“Until such time we will be hiring just enough personnel to maintain the property including keeping all of the buildings in first class condition.”

Meanwhile other hoteliers said the Willowbank closure demonstrated the state of the industry.

David Dodwell, who runs The Reefs, told the Bermuda Sun: “I’m disappointed to see another hotel close but not shocked because the industry is in dire straits.

“It seems difficult to convey that to the community and I hear people say ‘it’s not that bad’.

“The only way it gets through to people is when something like this happens.

“I feel awful for the people from Willowbank who will now go out and have to find new jobs.

“But if there is one thing this closure demonstrates it is that we need new brands and new hotels in Bermuda.

“We need to show the world we are not dying but trying to re-energize.”

Yesterday Economy Minister Kim Wilson said the Department of Labour and Training was liaising with Willowbank management to help those who would be made redundant.

She added: “I too like the rest of Bermuda was quite saddened to learn about the closure of Willowbank.

“This is one of the island’s long standing tourism icons, and I’m sure this was not an easy decision for the management of the hotel to make.

“Willowbank has been a wonderful tourism ambassador on behalf of Bermuda, servicing tens of thousands of guests over the past five decades. Without question, our priority of concern is for the local members of staff who have been made redundant, as I’m certain this must be a terribly distressing time for them.”