Tue | May 11, 2021

Dolphin Cove rehiring after hard COVID blow

Published:Wednesday | April 14, 2021 | 5:43 AMNeville Graham/Business Reporter
Chairman and CEO of Dolphin Cove Limited, Stafford Burrowes.
Chairman and CEO of Dolphin Cove Limited, Stafford Burrowes.
Chairman and CEO of Dolphin Cove Limited, Stafford Burrowes.
Chairman and CEO of Dolphin Cove Limited, Stafford Burrowes.
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Dolphin Cove is starting a shift in customer traffic back towards more foreign visitors, but is still far from a full recovery of the most lucrative segment of its market. The company has been mostly reliant on locals for business since the COVID...

Dolphin Cove is starting a shift in customer traffic back towards more foreign visitors, but is still far from a full recovery of the most lucrative segment of its market.

The company has been mostly reliant on locals for business since the COVID lockdown was lifted in the summer of last year, but typically makes most of its revenue from tourists.

Now with the tourism market opening back up, albeit at a slow pace, the marine park is in the process of rehiring staff that were laid off during the pandemic amid signs that business is re-emerging.

“Initially, the reduction in customer traffic was about 70-80 per cent and those that were coming was about 80 per cent locals,” said Chairman & CEO Stafford Burrowes, who was more bullish about the company’s prospects on Tuesday, after a bad year in which the marine park attraction spun to a loss.

“We’re noting improvements, and so of those coming now, it is about 50 per cent locals,” he said.

Jamaica’s tourism sector and the businesses that are reliant on it suffered severe fallout last year as borders closed to contain the pandemic and the travel market dried up. Dolphin Cove was no exception. It did no business for several months due to the lockdown, the upshot of which was a 72 per cent compression in revenue from US$14.8 million to US$4.3 million at year ending December 2020.

Not only did the marine park spin to a loss of US$1.13 billion from a profit of US$1.6 million the prior year, operating cash was decimated, falling from US$3.8 million to just over US$12,500. Net cash fell from US$1.4 million to less than US$15,000.

As a contingency measure, Dolphin Cove secured a line of credit from Sagicor Bank. Burrowes said he opted for the revolving facility since there was no telling how long the pandemic would continue to affect business.

In the dramatic cuts to its operation under the pandemic, the company separated 120 of the just over 300 workers. But now business has returned to about 45 per cent of the 2019 numbers, which for him means Dolphin Cove is currently “not doing badly at all”, and the rehirings have begun.

“We’re getting calls from the cruise ships and they are asking us to give them allotments because they want to start booking the tours. So we’re feeling very positive again,” said Burrowes. “We’re calling back some of the team members as we speak, in line with increased needs, due to greater customer traffic. With that I can say things are getting better,” he said.

Still, it’s going to be a while before Dolphin Cove revives other plans, inclusive of capital projects earmarked for St Lucia, where it previously made a 40 per cent deposit on the construction of a new encounter park, and in Turks & Caicos where it also setting up a marine attraction.

Those projects are still on the cards, but their roll-out will be revisited.

“We’re still going ahead with everything but because of the slowdown we had to draw back a little. Hopefully, the situation will get better in another year or two, and at that time we will push on,” Burrowes said.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com