Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley (right) and her Minister of Tourism and International Transport Kerrie Symmonds (centre) listen as Sandals Resorts International Chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart (left) gives an update on the Beaches Resort to be built on the old Almond Bay property at Heywoods, St Peter, Barbados.
Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s announcement that her Administration will create a “level playing field” across the industry, allowing hoteliers to access concessions in the same way that Sandals is accessing them, has been welcomed by the resort chain’s Chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart.
“This announcement from Prime Minister Mottley is tremendous news for Barbados’ tourism industry,” Stewart, told the Jamaica Observer, of which he is also chairman.
“Accessing benefits is the best thing that could happen to the Barbados tourism sector and augurs well for the future,” added Stewart.
Prime Minister Mottley made the announcement last Friday during a site visit to the Heywoods, St Peter property in Speightstown earmarked for the US$400-million Beaches Resort, which is operated by Sandals Resorts International.
Making it clear that her Government will respect all agreements that had been negotiated with Sandals prior to assuming office, Mottley said: “We have determined that we don’t ever view Barbados as a country that departs from the rule of law, and that we accept that those contractual obligations we made are those which we continue to abide by.
“We want to allow as many hotels as our physical circumstance allows to enjoy the exact benefits that you currently enjoy. Whether that takes six months, eight months, or 18 or 24 months, we feel that it is important, from a values perspective, to have a level playing field,” she told the Sandals chairman and his team.
Sandals had received the concessions after starting operations at the former Almond Casuarina Hotel in Dover, Christ Church in the eastern Caribbean island in 2013.
However, a number of hoteliers and industry officials complained that they were being placed at a disadvantage as they were faced with too much bureaucracy whenever they tried to access the concessions.
On Friday Mottley said that as Barbados emerged from its economic turmoil, one of the goals of her Government “must be to create that fair and transparent environment”.
“Immediately I can say that for those persons in the Barbados hotel sector who now currently have to go every two to three weeks to get a renewal from the Ministry of Tourism, I have indicated to the minister of tourism that is unacceptable and that they should equally be allowed the same benefit Sandals has now,” she said.
She also welcomed the Beaches development earmarked for the old Almond property, promising that her Government would ensure that all approvals were in place in order that the project could get off the ground by its planned January 2019 date.
“I am deeply conscious, as was indicated, that subject to all of the relevant permissions being put in place, that this project will start in early January for the benefit of both the owners and shareholders of Sandals, but equally as important to the people and workers of Barbados,” Mottley said.
“I, therefore, am happy to be associated here this afternoon and to say that I have every confidence that you are going to be in a position to start very shortly. The reality also is for us, as we have indicated that this is part of the light that is necessary to bring hope and to help Barbados out of this very different set of circumstances,” the prime minister added.
Stewart, in his response, said he hoped the resort,which will be the single-largest investment in the SRI chain to date, would play a major role in helping the Barbados economy to recover.
He said that the project, which should last about 27 months, would provide about 1,700 jobs in the construction phase and 1,500 when the property is up and running.
Stewart also expressed confidence that the Beaches property — which will consist of about 600 bedrooms, a zip line, a six-lane bowling alley, numerous water slides and an on-property train — will help attract more airlines and visitors to Barbados.
“It is easily the most modern product that we have. In my view, it is the finest family resort anywhere in the entire world,” Stewart said.
Tourism Minister Kerrie Symmonds, who was on the tour, was not able to say immediately how soon the changes would be made for all hoteliers to automatically access the concessions under the Tourism Development Act. However, he said the matter is now a priority for his ministry.
“I don’t like to give exact timelines, but I’m hoping it will be concluded before the start of this winter tourist season,” Symmonds is reported as telling the Barbados Nation‘sSaturday Sun newspaper.
Symmonds also welcomed the new development and the impact it will have on positioning Barbados as a key investment destination.
“I think that it sends a very positive signal, to all who have ears to hear and eyes to see, that the investment potential of this country is alive and well and that there is still an elasticity of demand. I want to be very brief today, to say thank you very much, Mr Stewart. We warmly welcome the partnership and we are looking forward to building on that as we go forward,” Symmonds added.