Rooms vacant: Papua New Guinea hotels feel the pinch


Two Papua New Guinea hotels have shut their doors temporarily because of the COVID-19 state of emergency and others have put in place tough measures to guarantee their survival.

ela beach

Ela Beach Hotel has closed its doors temporarily because of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Credit: Coral Sea Hotels Group

With international and domestic travel at a virtual standstill because of the COVID-19 state of emergency, PNG’s hotel industry has suffered a severe downturn.

‘We’re doing it tough,’ says one Port Moresby hotelier who did not want to be named. ‘Occupancies have reduced, and in some cases are in single digits.’

So far, two hotels in the nation’s capital have closed, temporarily at least. The Holiday Inn Express and the Ela Beach Hotel have shut their doors during the past two weeks.

The Holiday Inn Express released a statement that partly said: ‘Due to significantly reduced business following the recent COVID-19 outbreak and the Government decision to restrict travel and public gatherings, Holiday Inn Express has made the incredibly difficult decision to temporarily close until further notice.’

‘We had to let 80 per cent of our staff go and only retain essential staff who live within walking distance of the hotel.’

The Ela Beach Hotel is part of the Coral Sea Hotels group, which also includes the Grand Papua Hotel and the Gateway Hotel in Port Moresby.

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Guests who had been booked in at the Ela Beach Hotel were moved to the Grand Papua, while staff were reportedly sent home on full pay.

Coral Sea Hotels has said that there are no plans at this stage to close its other hotels.

Could there be more temporary closures?

The executive lounge at the new Hilton Hotel, Port Moresby. Credit: BAI

Hotel sources have confirmed to Business Advantage PNG that many other Port Moresby hotels are operating at reduced levels. Some have closed rooms to do renovations, while others have closed restaurants and cafes, or are opening them with limited hours. Swimming pools and day spas have also been shut down for health reasons.

‘They [the staff] have been given annual leave, sick leave and long-service leave,’ the source says. ‘In some cases where staff have no leave available, they are being paid a small percentage of their wages so they can support their families.’

Hotel vendors (such as food suppliers) have also been affected as hotels reduce the amount of food and beverage they order. ‘There has been a ripple effect,’ the source says.

In response to our inquiries, Airways Hotel has assured guests that it is closely monitoring the situation surrounding COVID-19 and is working hard to ensure the hotel remains running to the highest standard.

The safety and wellbeing of our guests and staff is of paramount importance,’ the hotel said in a statement.
‘The kitchen and housekeeping staff are vigorously maintaining high levels of hygiene, including wearing masks and regularly sanitising high-touch points such as door handles and lift buttons. Our team is briefed on a daily basis and we are providing increased medical support to our staff.’

‘It’s crazy, because it’s like we are going through the 1994 twin volcanic eruption again.’

The Hilton Hotel Port Moresby said it was too early to accurately measure the financial impact of COVID-19.

The Hilton’s statement said: ‘In this environment, we prefer not to have a specific hotel’s performance cited as it may be interpreted as commentary on our entire network. We have withdrawn our guidance, and we’re planning to update the market with more information on our response to COVID-19 when we report our first-quarter earnings.’

Meanwhile, the hotel’s Commercial Manager, Robbie Turner, has assured guests that it has stepped up its cleaning and hygiene protocols, based on advice from public health authorities and medical professionals.

Among the measures being undertaken by the Hilton are on-going briefings to hotel teams, increased frequency of cleaning public areas such as lobbies, elevators and door handles, continued use of hospital-grade disinfectant, increased deployment of hand sanitisers, and adjusted food and beverage service in accordance with the latest food-safety recommendations.

Provinces affected

The drastic effect on PNG’s hotel industry is also being felt in the provinces, based on comments by the proprietor of the Rabaul Hotel, Susan McGrade.

‘The impact has been huge,’ she tells Business Advantage PNG.

‘We had to let 80 per cent of our staff go and only retain essential staff who live within walking distance of the hotel [at the time of writing PMV transport has been prohibited].’

She says the closure of local markets had also made it difficult to source fresh food for the hotel’s restaurant, however nearby stores remain open for dry and frozen goods.

I can’t explain why the shops do not purchase garden produce from the [market] vendors direct. We are a town, so we do not have viable [fruit and vegetable] gardens ourselves and most of our residents do not own cars to access village gardens, so it’s difficult all around. I believe fresh fruit and vegetables are vital.’

She said the hotel may have to be put in ‘cotton balls’ if the situation continued for too long.

‘It’s crazy, because it’s like we are going through the 1994 twin volcanic eruption again. We were going to cotton ball the place then, however we remained open and traded our way through the next 25 years. Isn’t it amazing, someone ate a bat in China and a little old hotel somewhere in the Pacific might have to close down?’

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