As far as losses are concerned Ocean View Hotel General Manager Desiree Rambarran would only say that they run into “many millions.” It is as much as she can honestly say at this time. Counting the cost of what is a significant setback for the local hotel industry is a complex matter.
Rambarran and her staff are still sifting through the devastation wrought by the protracted pounding to which the hotel was subjected by the Atlantic Ocean two weeks ago, which left the entire ground floor of the facility submerged in about two feet of water. At their highest, the waves that swept across the seawall probably measured ten feet.
Much of the damage was still evident when Stabroek Business visited the facility earlier this week. More damage and losses are being discovered as a major clean-up job unfolds. Rambarran makes the point that loss calculations will also have to take account of lost patronage. Still, she refuses to dwell on the issue. “We will just have to work with what we have,” she says.
Even before the loss assessment process is complete what is already known is staggering. Everything on the ground floor has been affected. Fridges, water heaters, coolers, beds, air conditioning units, laundry and pool pumps, assorted furniture and kitchen equipment have all been completely destroyed. Twice, Rambarran interrupted this interview to have an exchange with someone who had come to assess the damage done to the hotel’s stoves. The news was not all bad but some rendering was necessary if the kitchen was to be up and running again soon.
Three generators had been completely submerged in water and for a period the entire hotel had been in darkness. Two have since been repaired. The hotel’s swimming pool stands idle and desolate. When the sea made its unwelcome intrusion its salt water contaminated that facility. The pool, the hotel’s General Manager says, will have to be emptied, sanitised and refilled.
Apart from the salt water, the Atlantic brought with it a thick, vile swathe of soup-like slush that settled on the entire ground floor. It meant that every piece of carpeting had to be torn up and will have to be replaced. Outside the hotel, slush settled on the driveway and in drains and dried into thick crusts that had to be dug up and carted off. Once the Atlantic seized the Ocean View in its grip, telephone lines became water-logged and the service ceased. When Stabroek Business visited the hotel, a GT&T technician was examining a tangle of telephone cable. Apparently she had made some headway since part of the telephone service to the hotel had already been restored.
The Ocean View Hotel was acquired by its present proprietor, Jacob Rambarran, in 2008. Over time, it has established both a local and an overseas clientele. Its dining area has become a favoured venue for birthday parties and wedding receptions and its Convention Centre has come to be associated with important events. Some years ago, when sections of Parliament Buildings were being renovated the Ocean View’s Convention Centre was used to hold sessions of the National Assembly.
The deluge had struck the hotel a short while before a regular Surinamese client who uses the hotel for tours to Guyana was due to arrive with a tour group. Desiree Rambarran recalls that even as she was contemplating the damage she had to contact her client by telephone to tell him the bad news and ask that he find alternative accommodation. She dwells on this momentarily, pointing out that what might probably hurt no less than the loss of property was the loss of patronage, at least in the short term.
Remarkably, the hotel has been back in business since Saturday. Guests who had checked in since the debacle had departed a few hours before this newspaper arrived. An unfazed-looking Desiree Rambarran was talking glibly about a wedding for 250 guests which the hotel was hosting tomorrow and a front desk employee was providing a woman with details associated with the hosting of a birthday party. A few tired but upbeat-looking workers appeared preoccupied with damage-assessment and mopping up operations. The General Manager told Stabroek Business that the insurance claims are yet to be completed.
Desiree Rambarran appears much more perturbed by the man-made impediments that afflicted the Ocean View Hotel on that ugly afternoon than with those that could not be avoided. She talks about the phenomenon of rising sea levels, stopping to make the point that a lesser storm had assailed the premises on Good Friday in 2012. She talks too about possible engineering options that might keep the sea at bay though she eventually concedes that unpredictable future environmental trends raises uncertainties. What she appears more perturbed about, however, is the fact that on the afternoon when the Atlantic came in the water pump at Liliendaal appeared not to be working and the various waterways were clogged with garbage. She cannot say whether those circumstances might have made the hotel’s predicament worse than it ought to have been, but she hopes the lessons of this experience can be learnt.
Seemingly satisfied that the hotel’s preoccupation with minimising down time has brought out the best in her employees, Rambarran says that the period ahead will be spent seeking to move the facility ever closer to a condition of normalcy. Occupancy of the hotel’s ground floor – where the cheapest, most popular rooms are located – will be impossible for a while yet. In the dining area, however, a modest area has been thoroughly cleaned and decorated, giving it the appearance of an oasis in a desert. “That’s just in case a few guests were to drop in,” she quips.
After the discourse Desiree Rambarran insists on acknowledging the support the hotel has received from the Guyana Fire Service, the Georgetown Mayor and City Council as well as her church members and staff. She acknowledges too the visits and expressions of interest from Acting Tourism Minister Irfaan Ally and officials of the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana (THAG).