Despite the ongoing controversy surrounding the Hyatt hotel project and the possibility of there being further tourism delay, Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy remains optimistic that Barbados will be able to boost its overall room stock by another 2,000-plus rooms by 2019, based on a planned investment of $2 billion.
Addressing the opening of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s State of the Industry Conference (SOTIC) here last night, Sealy issued the same projections that were given by the Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc (BTI), Stuart Layne, early last month, while listing the proposed Hyatt in Bay Street among projects to be completed by 2018.
“Our objective, basically, is to add at least one or two new products to the inventory –– in other words, one or two hotels every single year commencing in 2015 –– all the way through to 2019 and beyond; to increase the Government’s receipts to about $2 billion [and] to employ an additional 7,500 persons directly and about 16,000 persons indirectly. So you are looking at [close to] 24,000 persons that we are looking to have in the sector or in ancillary development over the next ten years,” said Layne in making the August 5 announcement.
At the time, Layne did not go into details, but he made mention of several projects, including Sandals Casuarina, which he said was working to have an additional 220 rooms by November next year; Hyatt in Bay Street and Wyndham in St Philip, which were to be completed by 2018, providing an additional 640 rooms; a private sector development that would start in Foul Bay, St Philip later this year, providing 309 rooms; and Sandals Beaches and “other planned developments” that were to commence in 2017, providing an additional 400 and 150 rooms respectively.
“That brings us to a total of an additional 2,300 rooms. This is rather important because it will have a very positive impact on the Barbadian economy,” Layne had said.
However, since his announcement that tourism was expected to redound to full employment by 2019, there has been significant public outcry over Hyatt, with social activist David Comissiong, objecting the loudest and even threatening Government with legal action if the 15-storey Hyatt on Bay Street is allowed to go ahead.
Of serious concern is the threat posed to the City of Bridgetown and its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Barbados National Trust (BNT), which is represented on the Barbados World Heritage Committee, has already objected to the project, fearing its construction would cause Barbados to lose its crucial World Heritage designation for the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison and put it on the “danger list”.
However, without making any reference to the controversial Hyatt project last night, Sealy boasted that investor confidence in Barbados was up and that the island was taking advantage of the boom being experienced even in the face of myriad challenges.
“We have seen that the room stock has increased as well, so that means investor confidence is also at a good place because investors are investing. And, in fact, if I use Barbados as an example, we are optimistically hoping to supplement our room stock by another 2, 000-plus rooms by 2019 with a planned investment of US$1 billion,” he said.
Sealy told the gathering at Hilton Barbados that the performance of Caribbean tourism as a whole was very encouraging with the region set to welcome a record number of visitors in 2016.
“The region saw 28.7 million visitors in 2015. That was an increase of seven per cent over 2014 and, in fact, was a record in terms of number of visitors to the region. 2016 is looking ahead of 2015 and for the first time we would see 30 million visitors to the region,” announced Sealy, who is wrapped up a two-year stint as chairman of the CTO council of ministers.
In the midst of the good news, Sealy also had a sobering message for industry players who, over the next 24 hours, will be seeking to map out a strategy on the way forward for the region’s bread and butter industry.
“As encouraged as we are by the results and how far we’ve come, we need to accept the realities that must be grasped going forward,” he told delegates.
“Competition is getting more intense. That is a reality. I also could speak now of other things that have now become a part of the lexicon, that did not exist even when I was named Minister eight and a half years ago,” he added, mentioning private accommodation online renting portal Airbnb, Uber and Brexit.
While the industry has always been faced with challenges, the top tourism official said new ones continue to emerge and the region must find creative ways to keep its tourism sector relevant and ahead of the competition.
“The other thing of course, that we’ve had to deal with present day and not so much in the past, is the competition from other regions. Pacific, Asia, Middle East, and, yes, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa have all emerged offering competition to the product that we provide in the region.
“Today now we have tourists who are more curious, who want to have a local experience. A new focus is the focus of the experience that is being seen not only by the budget traveller but the luxury traveller and all travellers,” Sealy added.
“Meeting our visitors’ expectations along with meeting the expectations of our own respective citizenry is an imperative. Because let’s face it, if the population is not with you, you can’t make the money and your hotels and various institutions will have to come to a grinding halt, so we need each other.”