The troubled Beijing Imperial Palace Hotel witnessed a new episode in its already tumultuous history on Friday. In a press conference held at the Tourism Activities Centre the Government Tourism Office (MGTO), director Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, announced the temporary closure of the hotel based on “serious administrative irregularities which constitute threats to public safety.”
The measures took effect from Saturday (July 23) and will be in force for a period of six months. During that period, the public is strictly prohibited from entering any of the premises, which will be considered a “violation of order.”
According to Senna Fernandes, the decision is based on several infringements such as illegal construction work performed in the hotel. The MGTO head further stated that although many of these infringements have been on going for at least two years, the service has given a deadline to the company responsible for the management of the hotel to correct these problems and to perform the necessary improvements.
Among the irregularities are “serious fire safety issues including an inadequate number of fire extinguishers, defective emergency lightning system, blocked exits, obstructed escape routes, malfunctioning smoke chamber, use of decorative materials without fireproofing and storage of fuels beyond legal limits, amongst others,” Senna Fernandes said.
The MGTO head also remarked that previously the restaurants and several other facilities, which include the New Century Sauna, Waterfall Garden Tea House, New Century Chinese Restaurant, Scenic Veranda Coffee Shop, Beijing Imperial Palace Club House and Caesar Terrace, had seen their licenses suspended or were permanently closed down.
Given the large number of tourists with reservations booked at the hotel, travel agencies were asked to make the necessary alternative arrangements. Helpdesks were set up at the Tourism Activities Centre and at the Beijing Imperial Palace lobby.
“They [the hotel] have around 599 rooms from which 573 rooms are currently occupied, all of them by tour groups, there are no individual travelers,” said Senna Fernandes.
Another of the concerns expressed by several media outlets is the fate of the hotel workers and other staff. The Acting Deputy Director of the Labor Affairs Bureau (DSAL), Ng Wai Han explained that over the past years there have been several complaints from the hotel employees, which have been resolved with the exception of three outstanding issues.
According to DSAL, the hotel’s current staff are all overseas workers. There are 29 full time workers, as well as 30 housekeeping staff working on either a part-time or full-time basis. For these workers, DSAL will “communicate with them to understand their needs,” Ng Wai Han said, adding that “besides [protecting] the rights of the worker we are also concerned with the reemployment of these employees.” Hotel staff can also go to the helpdesk to seek assistance.
According to the records of DSAL, the compensation amount that was already calculated by the bureau regarding “overtime payments, holidays and extra payments, etc.” reaches a total amount of over MOP20.7 million.
Regarding potential solutions for this case, the MGTO director said that there are two: one, the hotel management company performs the maintenance required and corrects major problems, following which the hotel operations might be resumed after the six-month closure period (in a lower rating than the previous five-star classification); or two, the company cannot or would not perform any improvements and in that case the MGTO will proceed to a permanent shut down of the hotel.
According to the MGTO, this is the first time that a five-star rated hotel has been ordered to close down and there are currently no other similar cases.
The Beijing Imperial Palace holds within its premises the casino Greek Mythology, that was operating until the end of last year under the gaming license of Sociedade de Jogos de Macau S.A. (SJM), and that as the Times firstly advanced has been closed since then due to alleged “renovation works.”
Most recently the Court of Final Appeal (TUI) has rejected an appeal over unpaid VIP gaming commissions. The dispute involves Hoi Cheng Nga, who runs Macau-based Energy Travel Agency, and it has been said that it may be possible to push for the sale of the Greek Mythology casino over this debt.
Owners: Hotel closed without notification
The investment company behind the New Century Hotel has announced that the hotel was shut down without any prior notification. Moreover, the company claims that the hotel was closed following an unexpected request made by the tourism authority, according to a statement published by the company in Macao Daily News.
The company is said to have been surprised by the authority’s rush decision because it created a negative impact upon tourists and damaged Macau’s image as a tourism city. It also pointed out that the hotel will continue to conduct all legal procedures in order to restart its service as soon as possible.
Since January 18, the company had taken over the control of the hotel, due to a number of unsolved problems left by the previous executive team. The company claims that the new executive team has never broken the law, having clarified that the said team has been meeting with the Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO) since July 21, although the department failed to inform them about the decision to shut down operations. The company only became aware of the closure after MGTO’s official notice on Friday.
To date, local governmental departments have received a total of 19 reports regarding the issue, including three accommodation issues, with 14 reports related to its staff.