Dec. 16, 2003 — More than 12 former and current employees of the Grand Bay Palace Hotel, previously Renaissance Grand Beach Resort, have filed a number of complaints with Sen. Adlah Donastorgs office.
The complaints, lodged against the hotel's owners, cite terminations without cause, pay cuts and new policies designed to limit or prevent tipping of staff.
Donastorg said he has asked the Department of Labor to ensure that the employees of the hotel, now owned by Palace Resorts St. Thomas, a subsidiary of Mexico-based Palace Resorts, are receiving fair treatment.
The Renaissance was owned by CTF St. Thomas Corp. and managed by Marriott Resorts. CTF sold the property to Palace Resorts on Nov. 6. (See: "New Owners Settle in at Resort.")
"This is one of our islands largest employers," Donastorg said, in a release from his office. "I want to ensure that the workers are treated fairly during the transition period."
In his statement, Donastorg also claimed that Palace Resorts planned to limit public access to the property. "According to a notice sent to hotel staff, the public will have to purchase a day pass for $99 and be screened in order to dine at the hotel or enjoy its other facilities."
"I do not like the idea of local access being limited at this or any other Virgin Islands resort," Donastorg said. "We dont want to become a place like Jamaica where tourists hide behind walls and gates and have little or no interaction with the community. This is a small island. I dont want to see more restrictions placed on where we can visit and eat. It is very discriminatory, and it is just not the American way."
However, Grand Bay Resort General Manager Luis Entrala refuted Donastorgs claims.
"We have not implemented any new policy regarding security screening beyond our normal guard gate security procedures, nor are we requiring outside visitors to purchase a day pass in order to come in," Entrala said in a release to the VI Source Monday night. "You can visit the beach at anytime, of course, and you are invited to come in at any time for lunch, dinner, Sunday brunch or for drinks."
Entrala said the day pass is being given as an option to residents who want to spend an entire day on the facilities. He said the tennis courts and spa would "ultimately" be for all-inclusive guests only. "However, we will continue to honor all current memberships," Entrala added.
Under the Marriott's management, residents were given the opportunity to purchase yearly gym memberships for $300, which included use of the gym, tennis courts and swimming pool.
Ghanem Kahan, owner of the recently opened Sears outlet at Tutu Park Mall, owned a gym membership with Renaissance. Kahan said when his membership expired in October he went to renew it but was given his money back.
"All of us [membership owners] received a letter stating that we are no longer members there," Kahan said Tuesday. "I felt horrible because they did not give us a reason."
Kahan said around 40 members played at the courts and had tournaments there. As of yet they do not have a place to play, Kahan added.
Entrala said the hotel was not a "money-making proposition" prior to Palace Resorts' purchase, and the all-inclusive overnight guest program will be one of the tools used to make the hotel profitable.
"All-inclusive programs are gaining in popularity in the industry," Entrala said. "They are designed not to hide the guests behind barriers but to make hotel operations more productive by improving our ability to plan ahead, to control costs and improve operating efficiencies."
Entrala also said that only two employees were terminated, and "we believe in both cases that this was totally justified."
"We are committed members of the community." Entrala said. "We invite everyone to visit us."
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