With the proposed construction here of the US$100 million Hyatt Centric Resort currently embroiled in controversy, some regional tourism officials have been critically assessing Barbados’ handling of the issue.
Social activist and lawyer David Comissiong is challenging the construction of the 15-storey hotel in the law courts on several grounds, including that the requisite environmental impact assessment (EIA) was not carried out and that no town hall meetings were held with the public.
Tourism consultant with the government of Antigua and Barbuda Shirlene Nibbs told Barbados TODAY the twin-island nation, which has faced similar opposition from “pressure groups”, had deemed it critical that the public be engaged at an early stage to ensure maximum buy-in for development projects.
“The government of Antigua use as much as possible, an engagement process when they had these new projects, and engage the communities in which these projects are going to be located,” Nibbs said.
“So, it is not that it is easy, but we have learned some lessons and there is an engagement that gives greater acceptance or understanding of what is going to be done in terms of the investment.
“What we do have from time to time, is maybe pressure groups who might be concerned about an environmental impact assessment but our environmental division works along very well with the various ministries to ensure that the necessary work is done, and the investors who we have attracted know that they have that responsibility to do the environmental assessments. That has been done and the projects are underway.”
Over the weekend, developer Mark Maloney held for the first time, a “public interactive discussion” at the hotel’s proposed site on Bay Street, St Michael.
“We have done everything that we have been required to do and we will pass on all questions to do with those requirements of us to the regulatory agencies who are responsible for giving permission for these types of projects,” Maloney told reporters on the sidelines of Saturday’s event.
Also weighing in on the development was the chief executive officer of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority Colin James, who told Barbados TODAY destinations seeking to attract and hold onto foreign direct investment would always experience these kinds of challenges.
However, he said one of the critical steps was ensuring that all due diligence was done as quickly as possible.
Using the Hilton’s luxury Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts brand that will enter Antigua by 2020 as an example, James said when major hotel chains wanted to establish a presence in the region it was an indication of the level of confidence they had in the Caribbean.
“We have to be as expeditious as possible in the process to make sure that whatever you need to do with regards to your planning permissions, your environmental impact studies are done as efficiently as possible, so when capital is available for investments we can take advantage of those opportunities. That is a common thread throughout the region,” he said.
In a separate interview, the parliamentary secretary with responsibility for tourism in Anguilla, Cardigan Conner, said some destinations were looking to Barbados for guidance and it was therefore important for the country to “get it right”.
“The due diligence that is done beforehand is vital and I think what is important for the islands is to understand that we need to work a partnership with foreign investors. If they are putting the bricks in the ground and they are putting money in the islands, they have to have a return as well . . . . If you go in with good faith and an understanding and learning from past experiences, it is important that you get it right,” Conner said.
“We as a small, young nation within tourism, we look to the likes of Barbados, Jamaica and a number of the other islands who are the forerunners in the tourism industry to learn from them, but you never stop learning. I am sure that is the case right now in Barbados, and for us in Anguilla we are quite happy to get it right the first time rather than having to go back over it again and again,” he added.
With the future of Four Seasons in Barbados still shrouded in uncertainty, Conner reported that Anguilla had become the second island in the region to carry the luxury brand.
“So, with that, we have found ourselves to be in a positive position as a government and as a people; we just want to build on that,” he said.
It is also anticipated that the Four Seasons brand will be introduced in Puerto Rico next year.