A former minister of tourism has welcomed the Jamaica-based Sandals to Barbados, but says the entire controversy surrounding its receipt of Government concessions could have been avoided.
Noel Lynch, who held the portfolio between 2000 and 2008, contends that the Freundel Stuart administration erred in its initial decision not to include the Sandals waivers in the Tourism Development Act.
Lynch said this would have made the deal transparent and prevented tensions in the local sector that led to calls for a level playing field.
“We could have avoided the controversy and complaints if all the concessions and benefits were placed in the Act,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“I thought that what you could have done, rather than doing it under ministerial fiat, is to have gone to Parliament, amended the Tourism Development Act to be able to put all the concessions and benefits [in it], so that, with certainty, everybody knows what they’re getting. This thing about doing it first for Sandals on the one hand and then trying now to catch back up . . . was the wrong approach. If you want to give Sandals concessions and benefits, go to Parliament and vote for them,” he stressed.
Sandals, which is investing nearly US$300 million in two former Almond properties in Christ Church and St Peter, has been granted a 25-year tax holiday that includes a waiver on all import duties, taxes, impost and levies on capital goods.
When the tax holiday comes to an end, the rate on concessions will be cut by 50 per cent for an additional 15 years.
“Clearly what Sandals brings, a lot of other entities would not be able to bring to the table. Therefore, I would like to think that the other players in Barbados can get benefits and concessions proportional to what Sandals is getting.
In other words, if you don’t bring the same thing as Sandals, it is almost impossible to argue that you could get exactly the same thing that Sandals is getting,” Lynch acknowledged.
Parliament is scheduled to debate the Tourism Development Act later this month, paving the way for concessions for local properties, similar to what has been granted to Sandals.
Ahead of the debate hoteliers this week initialed an MOU with Government, local manufacturers and farmers for the use of locally produced goods within the tourism sector.
The Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association has said that a number of hotel operators have already budgeted to spend more than $40 million in refurbishments to enhance their offerings.