Home drums must beat first in the sale of the Hilton Barbados Resort, and the process must be transparent, the Freundel Stuart administration has been advised.
The local private sector Wednesday backed Government’s decision to divest itself of the Needham’s Point, St Michael property, with some members recommending this should be only the beginning.
Those who gathered at the 350-room property Wednesday morning in a post-Budget breakfast seminar organized by the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) felt the proposed sale was a good idea.
However, the issues of transparency and ownership, as well as protection of the brand, occupied the minds of many of the business leaders.
“When we think of the Hilton where we are sitting right now, I would also like to strongly urge that there be transparency in the divestment and that it be offered to local hoteliers and others who might be interested in the asset. It would be better for us if it were,” President of the Barbados Bankers’ Association Donna Wellington said.
In presenting the 2017 Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals in the House of Assembly Tuesday, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler said Government planned to relinquish its ownership of the prime property, valued at more than US$100 million, given its substantial investment in the Wyndham Sam Lord’s Castle project, estimated to be in the range of US$250 million.
Sinckler said Government was expecting to receive no less than $100 million in net proceeds from the sale, taking into account the property’s liabilities.
However, with the pending sale of the Barbados National Terminal Company Limited still tied up in court after Rubis challenged its sale over a lack of transparency among other reasons, the private sector officials insisted Government must not allow the same to happen with the Hilton, which currently employs just over 400 people, nor should it ignore Barbadians when it seeks a buyer.
“The Hilton is obviously a brand near and dear to our hearts. We are hopeful that when we talk about the sale of the asset, we are talking about the sale of the asset and the brand remains. We don’t want to make the assumption, but we hope that based on the contractual arrangement and details the brand of the Hilton does not leave our shores,” Chairman of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Roseanne Myers insisted.
Stating that there were global partners who helped to market the island using the Hilton brand, Myers said she did not want any uncertainty in the market about the future of the international chain.
“So if the brand Hilton is not affected in any way and we maintain that Hilton international contract, we need to put that out there very early and we would hope that is the situation,” she said, while agreeing that Barbadian investors should be allowed to put forward their offer for the purchase of the hotel, offering ordinary Barbadians the opportunity to be shareholders.
BCCI President Eddy Abed has been a strong advocate of the sale of state enterprises, and Wednesday he, along and PwC’s Head of Advisory Services for the Eastern Caribbean Oliver Jordan, pressed home the point.
Jordan called for “bold and transformational” change, stressing that Government could no longer afford to provide some of the social services and therefore needed to hand them over to the private sector, or increase user fees.
“We definitely support the notion of divestment and giving Barbadians an opportunity to participate,” he said.
He identified Grantley Adams International Airport and the Bridgetown Port as two entities that should be sold, joining fellow business leaders in stressing that “any investment should give Barbadians the opportunity to partake”.
Meantime, Abed added the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation and the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation to the list of state enterprises that ought to be privatized, saying they were losing too much money.
“It is time we sell these assets off to Barbadians,” Abed said.