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Empress, Grand Pacific hotels close doors, hundreds laid off

Victoria’s Fairmont Empress hotel and the Hotel Grand Pacific are temporarily closing their doors due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, throwing hundreds of people out of work.
The Empress hotel is temporarily closing due to the pandemic.

Victoria’s Fairmont Empress hotel and the Hotel Grand Pacific are temporarily closing their doors due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, throwing hundreds of people out of work.

The 112-year-old Empress announced that it was shutting down effective Tuesday, while the Grand Pacific intends to suspend operations Thursday.

Empress general manager Indu Brar said in a statement that the hotel’s highest priority is the safety of its guests and staff.

“To do our part in halting the spread of this virus, we have made the difficult decision to suspend hotel operations at Fairmont Empress and temporarily close,” she said.

“We are currently planning to re-evaluate in the coming weeks and will provide updates on a reopening date as information becomes available.”

The closure affects all guest services, including overnight stays, the Willow Stream Spa, health club and pool, as well as retail stores and event spaces. The hotel’s restaurants closed last week.

Reid James, general manager of the Grand Pacific, said in an interview that the hotel is closing for health and safety reasons, as well as a precipitous drop in business.

“For a 304-room hotel, we’re at single-digit numbers on a daily basis,” he said. “So it’s very low. There’s next to nothing for my team to do.”

James said the closure will result in about 170 layoffs, a number of which have already occurred. A small team will remain in place at the hotel to ensure maintenance and security of the building, as well as to take future reservations and conference bookings.

It’s unclear when the hotel will re-open.

“We’re going to review it in a few weeks to see what the situation is,” James said. “As you know, it changes daily. So we’re hoping in a few weeks maybe it’ll start to improve and then maybe at that point we’ll pick a date in May.”

Unifor, which represents workers at both the Empress and the Grand Pacific, said the Empress closure will affect about 480 of its union members, who ratified a deal with the hotel this month.

Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor’s western regional director, said working people affected by the breathtaking pace of closures and layoffs across the country need immediate support.

“You know, as people are dealing with just the simple shock of having to go home and try and stay away from people, now you’ve got to be wondering about rent, about mortgages, about paycheques, about benefit plans, about medication,” he said. “Until people have those answers, it’s pretty tense for a lot of people.”

McGarrigle said the union is in daily contact with the federal and provincial governments, trying to impress upon them the magnitude of the situation.

“We’re finding a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of delay, and a lot of sort of tentative steps and really, our message is: Waive everything. Pay everyone,” he said. “Because I think that’s what people want to hear. ‘All your payments will be waived, and your pay will be maintained. In the meantime, we’re expecting you to stay at home as much as you can.’ ”

McGarrigle said there have been some encouraging words from governments, but they fall far short of what is needed.

“I mean, it is a disaster and they need to move fast and they need to move big, to waive everything and pay everyone, for now, until we get this thing under control,” he said.

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