PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands — Lucky Khlon, the hotel manager for Beaches Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), says he actually feels 'lucky' to be working for an entity which contributes so significantly to the well-being of its host country.
"So, lucky is more than my name. I'm in a very fortunate place. Beaches is a great resort and it's a good feeling to know that we impact so many lives positively," Khlon said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.
Khlon, a native of India, worked with the big Hyatt group in Montreal, Canada before joining Gordon 'Butch' Stewart's Sandals chain and being assigned to Beaches TCI. He said he had always wanted to join a big Caribbean brand.
"I knew Sandals was the best of them and when I applied for the job as senior executive assistant manager and got it, I was over the moon. It has worked out well on both sides and I am very happy," he said.
Asked to measure the hotel's contribution to the Turks and Caicos economy, Khlon said the magnitude of that contribution was something of pride to Beaches, its principals and 1,400 team members.
Based on 2011 figures, he said, Beaches paid some US$600,000 a month in accommodation taxes. The resort's electricity bill topped US$700,000 a month as the biggest customer of the light and power company here.
The hotel's yearly pay bill is in the region of US$30 million annually. The Provo airport rakes in over US$19 million from arriving Beaches guests numbering some 600,000 a year. Taxi operators make nearly US$2 million a year, representing 22,000 trips moving guests back and forth from the hotel, with another 7,000 trips to come and additional earnings of US$500,000 with the opening of the Veranda this month.
Khlon estimated the total direct contribution to the economy to be some US$60 million a year, not counting resources spent on charitable causes through the Sandals Foundation.
Added to that must be the spending of staff on food, housing, education, transportation and the like. He said no one questioned the act that Beaches was responsible for nearly half of the airlift into the TCI. Every other hotel benefited from the massive marketing programme ran by Stewart's well-oiled marketing machine.
"This makes the resort the largest contributor to the TCI economy and the largest private sector employer here," said Khlon, who noted that the resort was about to expand its staff, with the planned May 22 official opening of the Key West Village, new name for the neighbouring Veranda hotel, which was acquired by Stewart.
"Of the 170 persons on the local staff, we have hired 130 of them and dismissed rumours that they would be paid less by offering them better salaries and a far better future," said Khlon.
He said the very best of the staff from the ailing Veranda were rehired.
Khlon acknowledged that Beaches generally had staffing issues because of its need for trained employees who could bring the quality of service that would keep guests coming back and maintain the Sandals reputation for high standards.
Preference is given to hiring local staff but that has proven to be insufficient as "the numbers are just not there".
"Attempts to fill vacancies with qualified Jamaican staff have not always been welcomed with open arms as there are those who believe, quite erroneously, that they are taking away jobs from locals. We are a business and it always costs less to hire locals than to bring staff from elsewhere," Khlon insisted.
But the hotel manager said difficulties getting work permits had eased somewhat in recent months, after a series of dialogues with the Rufus Ewing administration.
Khlon added that Beaches had been developing a reputation for being protective of the environment, wanting to keep the Turks and Caicos, in the words of its motto, "beautiful by nature".
"We are obviously very happy that we have just picked up for the fourth year running the Green Environmental Award from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences. The resort has become the flagship of the TCI.
"It's people who knew Providenciales before we opened in 1995 who truly appreciate the development that we have spurred," Khlon suggested. "At that time, the island did not even have asphalted roads.
— Desmond Allen