The decision by the Sandals group to sell one of the hotels they either own or operate in Antigua to competitor Elite Island Resorts raises a number of questions. Like the announced Beaches brand that were ‘planned’ for Antigua and Barbados, both have been delayed and at least in the public domain no definite start date has yet been indicated. As sensitive as the subject is in some quarters, it does still raise a number of concerns as to, after receiving unilateral and still unique tax concessions for the former Casuarina property, what safeguards are there in place to ensure CPH Property Holdings, Grand Cass Management or whichever registered company now owns the property doesn’t suddenly decide to sell it off to another private sector interest after having already extracted a massive competitive advantage?
Again the taxpayer is left in the dark concerning the commencement of the proposed construction of a Beaches hotel on the current Almond Heywoods site. It certainly does not seem to be a Town and Country Planning issue, as Sandals seem to have received everything demanded or applied for in the case of the Dover location, seemingly in record approval time.
When interviewed by our local media back in February 2014, Mr. Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart categorically stated ‘Beaches is straight on track. The plan is to start mobilizing construction the middle of April 2015’.
While we are left to speculate, could one of the issues delaying Beaches perhaps be the current shortage of water?
500 plus ‘one, two and three bedroom family suites’ each with a minimum of two persons, plus staff, would of course consume massive quantities of the precious resource, but clearly an onsite desalination plant is a real option.
Another unknown – has our Government actually been paid for the property by Sandals, as clearly the proceeds would help reduce the current vast national debt and interest burden. After being granted such colossal concessions, effectively in place for up to 40 years at the taxpayer’s expense, which no other private sector tourism player can obtain, surely it is not an unreasonable expectation for a spokesperson of the company or our Minister of Tourism to clarify publically the ‘status quo’.
While there has been endless discussion about increased airlift, until the number of rooms at Sandals Barbados are added and occupied, little if any additional seat volume has been created by this brand and it has been left to the remaining accommodation sector to fulfill this objective. And judging by the increased arrival numbers, they seem to be doing a sterling job.
Of course in absolute fairness, their mere presence has raised increased destination awareness and that must be applauded and eventually when the quoted ‘additional 220 rooms’ according to a recent Travelpulse article come on stream, theoretically that could help fill another 22,000 airline seats per year, based on average stay and room occupancy.