Far from normal - Entertainers in the tourism industry restructuring their approach
Hotels and resorts are cautiously reopening for the Christmas travel season, but it’s anything but business as usual, say hotel industry professionals. The facilities serve as small entertainment hubs within the larger tourism industry, and the talents for hire – from cabaret singers, musicians, magicians and other theatrical performers to the entertainment coordinators – have suffered a significant loss throughout the pandemic. They will now have to restructure their approach as the work returns.
According to Ricardo Foreman, entertainment director at the Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Spa, entertainment will take on a whole new meaning and form.
“Entertainment cannot be the same; entertainment coordinators are expected to socialise with guests. Now it is a total different approach – interacting but from a distance – that takes more creativity in how they partake of the activities. There is no shaking, hugging or high-fiving of guests any more, and most sporting activities like volleyball and basketball can no longer happen,” Foreman told The Gleaner.
“In regard to the local talents, collaborating with the hotels means they will have to be more tactical and professional than ever in their performance. Right now, it is the top of the top out there that have been chosen to perform at the hotels,” he continued.
Foreman, who has been working in the industry for more than two decades, first as an entertainment coordinator, explained that the number of entertainers that are reintegrated into the hotels and resorts islandwide will depend on the occupancy, he says, “which most are not running at full capacity”.
“Hotel operations are running anywhere between 10 and 30 per cent. The 30 per cent is mostly on the weekend with our staycation promotion to our local residents. I would say not all local entertainers will be called back at this time either, so study your craft, take the time to perfect it and come with something out of the ordinary. Most of all, understand the type of guests the hotels cater to and are receiving to plan accordingly,” he advised.
Singer Ashley Donaldson, who balances shifts at the Deja Resort in Montego Bay and Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort and Spa in Lucea, said with the limited interaction with guests, work has been manageable.
“We used to see people on hotel dance floors in large numbers, but we stick to the protocols. There are times we have overzealous or intoxicated guests who are naïve to social distancing but actual security personnel [are] overseeing that this does not happen,” Donaldson shared.
All other protocols, including the wearing of masks and proper sanitisation, she says, are strictly enforced.
She said, “Aside from little to no interaction, there is no shame in saying I, like many of my colleagues, presently pick up less cash and have had to agree to pay cuts, and it’s understandable since most hotels still don’t have a full house in terms of guests. Usually, I would juggle between more than two hotels, as well as the cruise ships, but that part of the sector is yet to see a resurrection.”
“The engagement within the hotels has been on and off, jobs here and there, and I am not looking for it to pick up any time soon. Forget December, it may be way into the next year; for now, it is a watching and waiting game, playing chess with the money,” another entertainer told The Gleaner.
While the industry professional cannot say with certainty when normality will return, most mention that the restricted entertainment schedule is a result of low occupancy.
“This is habitually being used to justify reduced performance salaries or fees for the creative who has been unemployed for the past eight months,” explained Rory Frankson, the chairman of the COVID-19 Response at the Jamaica Federation of Musicians and Affiliates Union (JFMAU).
“The JFMAU strongly advocates for the use of written contracts to guide this process, as a means of protection against unfair business practices,” he said. “If reduced fees are accepted in the current environment, for example, we encourage that a clause to discuss when those performance fees will be reviewed (and increased to normal levels) should be included in the contract.”
Frankson, who is also a hotel musician, told The Gleaner that he has been feeling the pinch himself.
EXPLORING NEW MARKETS
“The expected return of [the] cruise sector should provide some opportunities, and return a number of hotel musicians to the high seas. We are engaged in developing more opportunities on cruise ships for our members,” he shared.
Some of the other undertakings of JFMAU COVID-19 Response have been to explore new markets worldwide to reopen the job opportunities available to local performers.
“Hotels and casinos around the world are being encouraged to import Jamaican talent for their stages. We want to improve the level of international demand for our products, building a solid export market for Jamaican musicians and performers,” Frankson said.
“We are taking a whole new approach to our efforts and are working with other industry groups to make a difference. We are in discussions about further assistance the Government can make available to the performer. Not just grants, but also other ways to providing financial assistance to the struggling sector (recovery aid) as well as negotiating with insurance companies to expand our current coverage (life insurance is normally included with JFMAU membership) to include, as an option, health insurance.”