Fish River checks out

Pop­u­lar re­sort to of­fi­cially close at the end of Novem­ber

Talk of the Town - - Front Page - ROB KNOWLES and LOUISE CARTER

NEWS that Sun In­ter­na­tional’s Fish River Sun Hotel and Coun­try Club Re­sort (FRS) will close at the end of Novem­ber has flooded Eastern Cape me­dia houses and cre­ated an on­slaught of posts on so­cial me­dia.

TotT has closely been fol­low­ing de­vel­op­ments at FRS 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 di­rected TotT to a PR com­pany who has since blasted the news over all me­dia out­lets na­tion­wide.

Enid Vick­ers of Cor­po­rate Im­age re­leased the fol­low­ing 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.

“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. Dur­ing the past decade, the hotel has hosted

11 an­nual Secko [Saska East Coast Karate Open] Cham­pi­onships, five na­tional cham­pi­onships and 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 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.

Sun­shine Coast Tourism chair­man Dr Rick Pryce said the news was a disas­ter for the area and he couldn’t un­der­stand why it was hap­pen­ing.

“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,” Pryce said.

“There is an ob­vi­ous ef­fect on the staff who have re­lied on the hotel for their liveli­hoods,” SCT man­ager Sandy Birch said.

“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.

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