NEWS that Sun International’s Fish River Sun Hotel and Country Club Resort (FRS) will close at the end of November this year have flooded Eastern Cape media houses and created an onslaught of posts on social media.
TotT has closely been following developments at FSR and its contested 17 year-long land claim case. Last week, TotT asked for an official statement from Sun International regarding the resort’s closure when a reservation at the resort could not be fulfilled. FRS did not respond directly but directed TotT to a PR company who has since blasted the news over all media outlets nationwide.
Enid Vickers of PR company, Corporate Image, released a press statement on behalf of Sun International; “Sun International today confirmed that it had entered into discussions with the SA Commercial and Catering Allied Union (SACCAWU) over the proposed closure of its Fish River Sun resort in the Eastern Cape.
“The resort has over the past number of years recorded escalating costs and declining revenues in a depressed economic environment, with little prospect of financial recovery. The option to sell the resort has been complicated by an outstanding land claim, making this option unviable.
“The company said it had considered several cost-saving and revenue improvement alternatives which had either been implemented or rejected. However, these had not improved the financial position of the resort and the company therefore has no alternative but to close the business.
“Economic pressure and subdued trading, taken together with the land claim uncertainty, have made cross-subsidisation by the Boardwalk in Port Elizabeth increasingly unaffordable. The company said it would engage with the union in terms of Section 189 of the Labour Relations Act, and have advised other stakeholders, including the Eastern Cape Gambling and Betting Board.
“Fish River was opened in 1989 and the proposed closure would affect some 126 positions at the resort. The resort will close finally at the end of November 2017 unless significant progress is made on interventions proposed by the Minister of Rural Development [Gugile Nkwinti] to continue with the operations.”
In May, court proceedings were suspended when two claimants, AmaZizi and the Prudhoe community could not reach an agreement. An unnamed representative from Sun International explained that at the time, a new investor had been lined up who was eager to resume business where Sun International would have left. The new investor drafted a plan to ensure sustainability of the resort and the surrounding communities, to include the interest of its new intended owners and to further develop education.
This agreement became null and void, as legal counsel representing each of these communities advised their clients against the settlement. Sun International then officially retracted any offers and has gradually begun the process to leave premises.
From a local perspective, many people who have used FRS are very disappointed that the closure is about to happen.
Gary Grapentin of Eastern Cape Shotokan-Ryu Karate expressed his dismay over the news regarding the imminent closure. During the past decade the hotel has hosted 11 annual SECKO [Saska East Coast Karate Open] Championships, five national championships as well as a seminar by internationally acclaimed instructor, André Bertel.
“It is estimated that each of these events attracts at least a thousand competitors and spectators to the region [while] international teams from Argentina and Romania have also attended championships hosted by the hotel. I believe the prospect of having to relocate these events to other parts of the province will bring about a tremendous loss of revenue to the region, not to mention the additional loss of publicity, media coverage and tourism which they regularly generated for Port Alfred and surrounds,” said Grapentin.
He also expressed his concern for the future of the hotel’s staff with whom he has worked with for many years.
Chairman of Sunshine Coast Tourism, Dr Rick Pryce, said the news was a disaster for the area, and couldn’t understand why it was happening.
“I feel so sorry for the staff at the hotel,” said Pryce. “The closure of the iconic Gary Player Golf Course will be a blow to tourism. However, looking at the positives, it may encourage event organisers and tourists to come into Port Alfred.”
“There is an obvious effect on the staff who have relied on the hotel for their livelihoods,” said SCT manager Sandy Birch.
“With low employment in the area, the effect will be devastating. We have lost a fantastic venue. Fish River Sun and Sun International are well-known brands.”
Court proceedings will resume for the final decisions and settlement on October 30 when the offer will be in financial compensation, by the state, to claimants at the value of the property at the date of deposition.
The total cost which government will endure when one of the Eastern Cape’s biggest land claim sagas is finally settled is, as yet, unknown.
ROB KNOWLES and LOUISE CARTER