Of Sandals and Scandals
Finally, after many years of trying, Barbados’ tourism product will have the Sandals brand attached to it. Not just one but two properties; Sandals Couples at Casuarina and soon to come, Sandals Beaches at Heywoods. This year at the World Travel Awards’ 20th Caribbean and North American Gala, Sandals Resorts International won for the 20th consecutive time the title of the “Caribbean’s Leading Hotel Brand.” Imagine the benefits that the Barbados tourism product will derive from having the Sandals brand marketing and selling Barbados.
Internationally, the news of the opening of Sandals Couples at Casuarina and the planned opening of Sandals Beaches have not gone unnoticed but it is creating a positive stir in the travel markets. In fact, it is projected that the country will benefit from increased airlift from the UK with the opening of Sandals in Barbados. A check of the website for Sandals resorts Barbados would reveal that since accepting its first guest on November 6, 2013 the 280 room hotel is fully booked up to March 2014. This indeed is positive news for Barbados. There are also plans to quickly increase the number of restaurants at the hotel from 3 to possibly 9. Do I hear, “employment opportunities”?
This is certainly a sign that something positive is happening in Barbados. Our tourism industry has just been given a tremendous jolt that would no doubt result in growth in the sector.
Under the leadership of Minister of Tourism and International Transport, Richard Sealy, Barbados has seen the resurgence of international hotel brands to add to Hilton and Fairmont. We have Radisson, Courtyard Marriot and now Sandals. This also strengthens opportunity for our local brands such as the Crane, Sandy Lane and Ocean 2 Resorts. Minister Sealy has been able to accomplish what the trilogy of former BLP Tourism Ministers failed to. Now instead of acknowledging the success of Sandals, the dejected, disgruntle and dysfunctional Opposition see it as a Scandal. “Negativity can only feed on negativity.”
Speaking of scandals, the former BLP administration approved a sweetheart deal for a merger which resulted in a loss to the treasury of over BDS$ 80 million. Barbados found out about it some 10 years later. How does this compare?
The Democratic Labour Party government has been nothing more than transparent and above board in all of its dealings with Sandals Resorts International. The Memorandum of Understanding was signed in the presence of the press on the 18th October and a Ministerial Statement was presented on the 22nd which outlined fully the agreement between the Government and Sandals Resorts International.
The suite of concessions offered to Sandals Resorts International is no different to concessions which were offered to other tourism projects and hotels:
- All inputs for construction to be free of all taxes and other imposts – this was also offered previously to other tourism projects such as Westmoreland and the Pierhead Marina.
- Tax concessions for inputs required for the operation of the Sandals Hotel – this is available to all hotels under the Tourism Development Act, Cap. 341. Plans for further expansion of this concession would allow all hotels to get what they need to stay competitive.
- Duty free operator’s licence to operate some of its specialty shops – This is not new and any Barbadian can open a duty free shop once the necessary criteria are met.
- Work Permits for skilled professionals where the skills cannot be sourced locally – again this is not new and is used most often by the existing hotel sector in Barbados.
Nothing offered in the concessions are exclusive to Sandals so we fail to realize the scandal which the opposition is trying to create. The only new concession is the tax concessions for food and beverage. With the offer to Sandals this new concession will be made available to other all-inclusive operators in Barbados, as Government finances permit.
Right now what Barbados needs is investments and jobs. If the opposition sees it as a scandal to sign a deal with Sandals which would result in 1500 jobs, in excess of BDS$ 100 million annually to the Barbadian economy that is a scandal we can live with. Welcome to Barbados Sandals! Barbadian artisans, hotel workers, taxi drivers, farmers and manufacturers are ready and able to help you “Sandalize” Casuarina and Sandals Beaches at Heywoods.
This investment will only encourage other investors to come on board with the lucrative Barbados Tourism product. The expected 130,000 additional visitors will protect the airlift into Barbados and reduce the millions spent by Government to support airlines now flying into the Country. It will also substantially improve the visibility of our island, as Sandals will use its full marketing might to promote its two properties in Barbados. This is the making of a delicious Sandals scandal which will be the talk of the world travel market. Barbados will come out of this deal “21 miles long and a smile wide”.