Covid-19: Temporary suspension of Carmel operations

Sunday 22 March 2020

Dear Carmel guests

Friends, there is no need to introduce the issue that is the focus of this letter. We are all acutely aware of the immense challenge that our world is facing in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Our world is changing on an hourly basis. Indeed, what we are seeing is unprecedented in our lifetimes. And yet, we know, that God doesn’t change. He is an ever-present help in trouble and we can find peace in Him in the middle of the storm.

Impact of Covid-19 on Carmel

The reality of daily life is hitting all of us hard. Some are directly impacted, suffering with the symptoms of the virus, many more of us are dealing with the personal and professional disruption that the Covid response requires.

The tourism industry is already one of the most hard-hit sectors, with travel bans, restrictions on the size of meetings and social distancing all having a big impact on travel and tourism activity.

At Carmel we have felt the impact of social distancing decisions and international travel bans massively over the past week. In a matter of days, our upcoming groups and conferencing bookings have all been cancelled. Virtually all leisure guests have postponed their holidays to later in the year or cancelled altogether. We rely heavily on group bookings out of season, but have seen almost R1 million of bookings cancelled for March – May. This effectively takes out our revenue altogether, creating a massive challenge for an operation which has a high fixed cost base, the bulk of which are salaries.

Impact on our staff

As such, we have made the painful decision to suspend guesthouse operations at Carmel for a period of approximately 3 months, during this nationally-declared state of disaster. Our biggest concern is for our 27 staff, as we will have no means to pay salaries, with revenue having dried up. After careful consultation with our Labour advisors and in consultation with our staff, we have decided on temporary retrenchment measures. Under this arrangement, staff continue to be employed by their employer, while not receiving a salary. They are however, allowed to claim UIF (unemployment insurance), which amounts to between 36-60% of salary. Staff do not lose their jobs in this dispensation and will start back at Carmel once the temporary retrenchment is over. This is a heart-breaking decision for us, but one we have had to make quickly to ensure that UIF payments can be accessed as soon as possible.

Please note, that we have not closed Carmel. We will contract a very small number of individuals (administrative and maintenance) to manage finances, critical maintenance and importantly, future bookings. Many of our postponed bookings have been rebooked from August onwards, which is when we hope to be back to full strength. For that to be possible, we will need to actively seek bookings during this three month suspension period to ensure that Carmel is viable from then on again.

Appeal to support our staff

So, this letter serves 2 purposes.

The first purpose is to notify you, our guests, of this temporary suspension of operations but appeal to you please to support us from August onwards when we are going to be more reliant on bookings than ever.

The second purpose is to appeal to you to support our staff financially if you have the means. We would dearly like to supplement their UIF payments so that they can manage through this difficult time. We need your donations, friends. Any level donation will be hugely appreciated. We will also need your support to pay the few individuals who will operate through the suspension period as I have outlined above.

Donations can be made to the following account:

Standard Bank
George Branch, code 000214
Savings Account number: 35537736
Ref: Carmel staff donation
It is very difficult to ask for help like this. We know that our guests and friends yourselves are under difficult financial constraints. We are all stretched. As a Trust we wish that we had a financial buffer for times like this. But then again, these times are unprecedented. Over the past few months, we have been putting plans in place to create long term sustainability at Carmel and are moving forward with these – plans like selling plots as the second phase of the Carmel Heights residential development you may know at the entrance to Carmel. I look forward to sharing more about these plans with you in a later letter.

A hopeful future for Carmel

Were it not for the Covid-19 pandemic, this letter would be a very different one, as there have actually been many positive developments at Carmel over the past few months. So let me end with a few high points. If you are on social media you would be seeing the exciting changes in our regular posts. Under the leadership of our new Director, Bev Brodrick, we are rolling out several upgrades and new initiatives. Carmel is going green, starting with the installation of solar panels. We are also doing our best to go off-grid, and along with the solar panels, also have a repaired generator and newly installed gas, so that power and hot water are no longer interrupted. Carmel is building our appeal as a destination venue, with new features such as a bicycle park which was immensely popular over the Christmas holidays. Annatjie Oliver, our head of Groups and now Operations Manager, has introduced many efficiencies in our operations. We have a renewed sense of God using Carmel to minister deeply into the lives of our guests.

Thank you for your support, in some cases over many decades. We hope that you will continue to walk this journey with us and enable us to see Carmel as a place of restoration and refreshing for many decades to come. Please keep communicating with us via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter over this next period. We will actively communicate updates to you over the next months. And in this challenging time our prayer for all of us is that we will draw near to God, knowing that he will draw near to us and will carry us through.

With thanks,

Paula Buchel

Chairman: Carmel Evangelical Trust