The near 400-room Almond Beach Village Resort in St Peter now has a new owner.
Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy announced this afternoon that yesterday the shareholders agreed, at a meeting, to accept the Barbados Government’s bid offer to buy out the hotel, which closed its doors about a year and a half ago, due primarily to accumulated debt of more than US$50 million. Sealy was speaking at the signing of two memoranda of understanding between the Government and Sandals Resort International at Hilton Barbados Resort for the establishment of two of Sandal’s world-class hotel brands in this country.
Under one of the MOUs, Government will buy the Almond Village from its Trinidad and Tobago owners Neal & Massy Holdings and lease it to Sandals to manage by using its brand name Beaches.
The sale, along with the value of the Sandals international brand, is worth about US$55 million. Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler, who signed on behalf of the Government, said while the purchase deal was now complete, “we now have to work through a few details”.
It was revealed that refurbishment work on the existing Almond Village should begin in nine months’ time and will comprise about 500 family-oriented rooms.
Earlier in his opening statement, Minister of Tourism Sealy disclosed that some $22 million in goods and services would be sourced locally once the Village went into operation.
When Almond closed, some 500 employees were put on the breadline, but chief executive officer of the Sandals Group, Adam Stewart, whose iconic father and chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart also attended the ceremony, said the new Beaches Resort would create approximately 1,000 jobs.
The acceptance of the Government bid for the St Peter hotel climaxed months of speculation as to who would succeed in owning the former Heywoods Resort. Among the major entities which had bid to buy out the property was the Crane Resorts.
The other MOU signed this afternoon was for Sandals to take over the former Almond Casuarina at Dover, Christ Church, from November 6. The hotel is now known as Couples.
“The bottom line is that we will see the advent of two Sandals properties operating in Barbados. One under the Sandals traditional brand, Couples Only Resort, and that will be the sight in Dover, where Casuarina once operated; that will be rebranded a Sandals Resort, and that will be happening in a matter of weeks,” Sealy stated.
“With respect to the other property, the Almond Village, which the Government has agreed to buy from the Neal & Massy Group of Trinidad, that will be branded, a Beaches Resort, which is the other brand, which is known as a family resort. And we are quite excited to have both of these properties come to Barbados at this time,” Sealy asserted.
He said it was a tremendous boost to the island’s tourism product and industry.
“It sends the right signal as far as confidence is concerned. It is going to be an investment, north of $500 million, that is over $1/2 billion (Barbados) over the next several years. It will see over 1,500 employed between the two hotels. We are talking 800 quality rooms, and it will have a tremendous impact on what we are attempting to do,” the minister announced.
He noted he was happy to finally have the Sandals brand in Barbados after many years of trying. Sealy saw the signing of the documents for the two properties as unprecedented, considering that usually a country got one world-renown project at a time, rather than two at the same time. He reported, too, that these ventures would attract an additional 130,000 visitors to Barbados in a year.
“It [the double project] brings investment to Barbados, and if anyone were in doubt that Barbados is somewhere where people want to invest, this clearly would dispel any such doubt. Sandals is a world-renown brand; it operates very well,” Minister of Finance Sinckler pointed out.
“To have this happen at this time gives us a tremendous boost of confidence . . . and our hope that in a few years’ time, we will be able to celebrate the third offering of a Sandals property. Even a mention of the name [Sandals] sparks an excitement in the marketplace. I am sure we are going to get some visitors coming to see where it is that this new Sandals is going to be,” he declared.
Sandals chairman Butch Stewart suggested that the time was right to invest in Barbados, observing he saw a bright future for the country.
“Barbados and its hospitality can be no second. I have seen over the last couple of years, when we started to get more and more interested, the quality of hospitality, the discipline and all the good things that Barbados are known for, not to mention the beauty,” asserted the world acclaimed hotelier.
Responding to a question about the likelihood of investing in the stalled Four Seasons, Stewart rejected any such idea, blaming his apprehension on his failed efforts many years ago to make a success of the Paradise Beach Hotel, the same site on which the Four Seasons is to be built. But Sinckler interjected saying that another Press conference would soon be held to announce “very” good news to Barbadians concerning Four Seasons.
“It will be even better news,” echoed Sinckler and Sealy. [email protected]