230 workers impacted as Marriott confirms closure of St. Thomas, Ont. call centre

Marriott International is closing two call centres, one in St. Thomas, Ont., the other in Texas, due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on travel and tourism. Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

Marriott International’s reservation call centre in St. Thomas, Ont., is being shuttered come September, impacting approximately 230 workers, the company said this week.

The call centre is one of two the multinational hospitality company is closing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic’s impacts on travel and tourism. The other is located in San Antonio, Texas.

Together, some 480 staff will be impacted at both facilities, according to a Marriott International spokesperson.

While the company says it will be able to shift some staff members to a remote capacity, “we will unfortunately have some job eliminations.”

It’s not clear yet how many St. Thomas workers, if any, will be shifted to remote work.

Read more: U.S. coronavirus outbreak is ‘going to be very disturbing,’ Fauci warns

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Employees of the St Thomas location were informed Monday morning about the news, said St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston.

“These employees have been working hard in St. Thomas, or their predecessors, for more than a decade — a long time. And they’ve done a fantastic job,” Preston said Tuesday.

“But when you’re in an industry where there isn’t bookings of hotels right now, there’s not a real reason for someone to be answering the phone at Marriott, so we understand that.”

The call centre, located at 800 Talbot St. in the centre of St. Thomas, has been in operation since 2003 when it opened as a facility for Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

Starwood, which owned Westin, Sheraton, and several other hotel chains, was acquired by Marriott in 2016.

Read more: June 5: London-St. Thomas jobless rate hits record 11.7 per cent in May

The closure will only add to the region’s record unemployment rate, which hit 11.7 per cent in May, according to Statistics Canada.

Preson said since the news emerged, the city has been in conversation with local provincial and federal politicians to focus on next steps.

The region’s MPP, Jeff Yurek, said in a statement that he had spoken with ministers Monte McNaughton and Lisa MacLeod about the closure and had requested “all possible supports” for those now out of work.

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Preston said the city was also ready to step in and help, such as with retraining.

“Our local economic development officers are already saying, ‘Okay, what can we do to, first of all, ease the burden of the employees that lost work, but also start looking for how can we fill this void in our community with a better situation or call centre?'” he said.

“We don’t know the answers to these things yet, but the answer is, yes, we can help. We’ll make it work.”

In a statement, a Marriott International spokesperson said those who lost their jobs will receive “severance, continued benefits, and other forms of assistance to aid in their career transition.”

Read more: Air Canada discontinues service on 30 routes across the country

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As with other industries, the pandemic and the emergency measures implemented in its wake have wreaked havoc on global travel and tourism, resulting in grounded planes, empty airports, hotels and conference centres, and mass layoffs across the sector.

Air Canada this month laid off more than half of its staff — 20,000 people — and last week WestJet announced organizational changes that would see 3,333 workers impacted.

Earlier this month, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada estimated that about 800,000 of the 1.8 million Canadians who work in tourism have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

Statistics Canada reported Tuesday that national tourism spending sank 14.2 per cent in the first quarter to $20.8 billion — the largest decline on record, it says.

Domestic tourism spending dropped by 12.9 per cent in the first quarter to $16.5 billion, while tourism spending by international visitors fell a record 18.8 per cent to $4.3 billion in the same period due to travel restrictions and border closures.

Read more: Coronavirus: Canada extends ban on most foreign travellers

Although some coronavirus measures are being eased across Canada, international travel, particularly to and from the U.S., won’t be on the itinerary right away.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced earlier this month that a ban on non-essential travel between Canada and the U.S. would be extended until at least July 21.

On Tuesday, the Canada Border Services Agency confirmed that it would extend a separate ban barring entry to travelers who are not Canadian citizens, permanent residents or U.S. residents classified as essential until the end of July.

According to Statistics Canada, arrivals to Canada from non-U.S. countries fell 96.6 per cent in April, the first full month of border and travel restrictions. U.S. arrivals, meanwhile, fell 96.8 per cent.

April also saw just 203,000 border crossings, the lowest number of crossings for any month since records began in 1972.

The agency says 5.4 million trips were reported in April 2019.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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