In just over a week from today, the luxurious Sandals Barbados property in St Lawrence Gap will throw open its doors to international guests, who have already booked their vacation in the sun between now and April 2015, to be a part of will finally after so many years be the launch of a Gordon “Butch” Stewart property on island.
One may say that the brand has not been without controversy in this island, the most recent being the great furore over the slew of concessions made available to them by Government to provide the right inducements to make January 28th, 2015 a reality. In this space and far from this space, I have personally had my say on the matter, which I believe must be taken from the vantage point of our national tourism product and how its policy framework, plant and equipment, staff and management and all other aspects should be evolving to keep us competitive.
The presence of Sandals should create a greater sense of introspection on the part of our Government and tourism officials in assessing the viability, innovation and value proposition that our industry reflects. This is still deemed to be our #1 foreign exchange earner, so we MUST treat it as such in every aspect. I cannot for one minute suggest that our locally or internationally owned or managed properties are not adequately in tune and capable of managing their properties to yield the results we require nationally, but I will suggest that Sandals simply appears to do it differently!
A few observations:
1. There are not many resort properties on island in the price range or boasting the facilities that Sandals does, so there appears no great degree of imminent danger to the majority of our room stock of being laid to waste on Sandals opening, as the clientele is simply different;
2. Concessions are often a necessary evil, especially where we seek to attract and retain investment. In my opinion, if the tourism sector or any other sector for that matter is deemed our chief money earner, it must be treated in that manner across the board and to all players. The so-called playing field will then be leveled by the marketplace based on service, amenities, value for money etc.
3. On a recent visit to London, I noted throughout the subway network billboards advertising Barbados and Sandals, something I have never seen to that extent by any other property in Barbados regardless of ownership. I believe therefore that the marketing exposure undertaken by the company in addition to the ongoing BTA/BTMI marketing machinery can only redound to the benefit of the entire industry.
4. The concessions granted have provided a high level of tax free status to the entity, and while we can debate the merits and demerits of the length of such exemptions, in the short term our focus should be to work with Sandals to capitalize on the foreign exchange earnings to be derived from their activity on island. Critically, one of the largest benefits will likely be linkages and consumption of local services and products. In St Lucia to this day, many individuals and companies that I have worked with continue to sing the praises of the Sandals group in respect of how they have cultivated relationships with local suppliers that have actually allowed them to develop, grow and become better at what they do –– are we prepared to ensure we reap similar benefits?
By no means do I attempt to suggest that it is or will be a bed of roses once Sandals opens its doors to guests next week, but I believe that in the context of tourism development there are indeed lasting benefits that can be derived.
In my previous columns I have suggested the concept of centres of excellence in each of our revenue generating and exchange earning sectors.
It is my sincere hope that with the presence of Sandals we will see the birth of such a concept, remembering the Intel and CDS years of our history where there was immense knowledge transfer, improved systems and an overall raising of the performance bar across not only in the data processing industry but the effect was also seen across the corporate landscape.
Welcome Sandals, but we will be holding you to a continuous high standard in all aspects, while we demand the same of your local counterparts.
(David Simpson is Managing Director of Prestige Accounting Inc. and Immediate Past President of ICAB.)