The problem with comfort and human beings is that once it sets in, for too many of us the incentive for further exertion diminishes. That appears to be the case with the now closed Almond Beach Village in St. Peter.
The flagship West Coast hotel, which operated as an all-inclusive property and was responsible for bringing thousands of mainly European tourists to these shores each year, said goodbye to its last guests at the end of April 2012.
Immediately prior to the announcement of the intended closure by its principal owner, Neal & Massy Limited of Trinidad and Tobago, after the notice was given and after the property sent home its staff, few things occupied the attention of Barbadians the way this development did.
And it was not hard to understand why. Almond had a direct connection with the struggling little town of Speightstown, and the hundreds of workers at the resort supported countless more who were connected to them. The pain brought on as a result of the failure of Almond ran deep.
Add to that the fact that the country was approaching a general election and everyone with a political colour had to add his or her two-cents worth to the debate.
Among tourism investors, the interest appeared to be quite high in owning or otherwise acquiring the sprawling property, once the asking price by N&M was right. We suspect too that those who held some interest in the property, and who understand how the hotel sector works, also knew that the longer it took to get the property up and running the greater would be the deterioration they would have to deal with. And repairs/renovation in tourism in Barbados means big money.
Now one year and a month later it appears that Almond has all but disappeared from the radar — and has also dropped out of the news. Barbados has lost the benefit of Almond Beach Village for an entire winter tourist season, and given where we are in 2013, the fact that the property has now suffered the effects of a full year of being idle, that the “top of mind” concept for Almond in the tourist market would have been lost, and that generally, successfully marketing such a property can’t be done in a few months, the likelihood of it making any meaningful contribution in the 2013/2014 tourist season looks quite slim at this time.
We know that just prior to the February 21 general election the Freundel Stuart Cabinet discussed a paper from Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy on a number of ownership options for the property, and that the ministry favoured a buy-out by the former staff. So we can’t say that the Government has done nothing to get the resort up and running again.
We also know that N&M has been examining a number of proposals and it would not be fair to fault them for taking their time given the directors’ fiduciary duty to get the best deal for shareholders.
But this is Barbados — our tourism, our economy, our loss of foreign exchange, our loss of job opportunities, our failure to capitalise on one of our finest hotel properties. It is time therefore for all concerned to take fresh guard. It is time for Government to use its powers of persuasion to light a fire under all who need to act.
We do not support any move that would disadvantage Neal & Massy, but the hotel is closed, the staff has long left the property and the financial bleeding that would have been taking place at Heywoods has been stemmed. Except for security and other incidentals like electricity, we suspect there is no accumulating bill that is worrying directors, so the urgency of action that would have characterised their deliberations prior to the closure most likely no longer exists.
For Barbadians, that urgency ought to remain not just until a new owner is found, but until tourists are actually staying at Almond Beach Village again. Barbados and Barbadians need to be shaken from their current state of national comfort — false comfort.
We just can’t afford to forget about Almond.