Government officials are describing the Sandals Resort International (SRI) investment as one of the most significant in the hotel industry and have hailed the Butch Stewart-led brand as the new benchmark for other properties to follow.
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler and Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism Irene Sandiford-Garner made the remarks following a tour, which was led by Stewart today, of the US$65 million Sandals, Dover, Christ Church project, which is said to be progressing to time and within budget.
“The advent of this Sandals property and the Sandals brand to this country is probably the most significant occurrence in the hotel industry in the last two decades, easily, when you look at the statistics presented, the brand recognition and power,” said Sandiford-Garner.
Given SRI’s marketing potential, she also said she was “very happy” the company had the confidence to invest in the Barbados economy, adding that there would be spin off benefits in the form of Value Added Tax and other employer and employee contributions to the Government’s coffers.
Referring to the ongoing Sandals construction, Sandiford-Garner said she believed it was “just the beginning of the take off of the Barbadian economy”.
Currently there are between 600 and 750 people working on the project from a number of construction firms. The development is about 40 per cent completed and is slated to open at the end of January next year.
Sinckler said Sandals had set a very high standard and other hotel projects coming on stream would “have to meet or exceed” those standards.
“It would only be natural that they would want to do that because you can’t come with a product to compete with Sandals and be less and be below. . . .So that is what we are expecting to see, from some of the other projects, private and Government. As you know Government has acquired the Sam Lord’s property . . . whoever is attached to that it cannot be less than what we have seen here,” said Sinckler.
Also speaking to reporters, Stewart said he remained confident in the Barbados economy, despite its challenges.
In fact, he said the island was “one of the most attractive” destinations in which to do business, adding that this had factored in his decision to purchase the former Almond Beach Village property in St Peter.
He suggested that if his company was more organized over a decade ago when he tried to take over the Four Seasons project he would have been here since then.
“We didn’t have an organization that was able to work with the Government at the time and the town planners and people like that. So it is history, but [Barbados] is a place that I have a lot of friends. So having confidence we should have been here a long time ago,” said Stewart.
Pressed about his decision to purchase the St Peter property after initially seeking to secure a lease arrangement, Stewart said he had met with the Minister of Finance “some time ago and he reached out”, while the Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy was “always” asking him to “come to Barbados and do something”.
“So it all worked out nicely. I am really happy,” the Sandals chairman said, adding that he had acquired the land next door to the Dover property to “look at, once we get pass this first part [of the construction]”.