US Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association
More than three months after the devastation of two Category 5 hurricanes, Irma and Maria, the Virgin Islands are showing significant signs of recovery. The 470-room Frenchman’s Reef Marriott and Morning Star Beach Resort sits on a spectacular 29-acre plot overlooking the Charlotte Amalie Harbor owned by DiamondRock Hospitality Company, a public real estate investment trust located in the United States.
Frenchman’s Reef suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Irma, where storm winds compromised the eighth floor roof of the main hotel and walls, setting off sprinklers that poured thousands of gallons of water into the rooms on the lower floors of the main building. 12 days later, Maria’s storm surge and wind driven rains exacerbated the damage. Frenchman’s Reef was closed to avoid injury and allow for the assessment of remediation and stabilization of the property. Extensive remediation efforts commenced shortly after the storms and are continuing.
“Our primary concern after the storms was the safety of our 530 employee hosts,” explained Chris Donohue, former general manager of Marriott Frenchman’s Reef, now serving as general manager of the Ritz-Carlton, San Juan. “We reached out to our staff and determined that they and their families were safe while in need of basic living assistance.” One hundred and fifty generators and emergency supplies were provided for those with immediate need.
DiamondRock and Marriott International have continued to pay employee wages and benefits since Irma hit the islands. In a recent all associate meeting, employees were informed that their paychecks would continue with full benefits through the end of the year, with accrued vacation and personal time paid in early 2018.
“We are truly blessed,” said Donohue as he addressed the gathering.
“We realize the past success of Frenchman’s Reef is largely due to the dedication and commitment of all associates at the resort who went above and beyond in taking excellent care of our guests,” said DiamondRock Vice President of Asset Management, Shalinder Singh. “Many employees lost homes or roofs and all lost power. DiamondRock and Marriott International felt taking care of our people after the storm was the right thing to do.”
Frenchman’s Reef employees are also entitled to benefits such as transfers to other Marriott properties in North America for career development, relocation financial support, low interest loans via the Marriott Credit Union and access to grants through Marriott’s Take Care Relief Fund. Employees were also urged to contact remediation contractors for job opportunities as work continues on the property.
Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp, who has been acting as a strong advocate for the Frenchman’s Reef employees, and working closely with Frenchman’s Reef since the storm, said DiamondRock and Marriott International are to be commended for their generosity. “They are taking exceptional care of their employees. As the second largest employer in the U.S. Virgin Islands, they are contributing to their community by keeping dollars flowing through the economy affecting thousands of people and businesses. We consider this group to be a model employer and good corporate citizen.”
Frenchman’s Reef and Morning Star properties are currently undergoing the massive job of assessment and planning.