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‘We’re in’

by Marlon Madden
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The tussle over what price the Government and taxpayers can bear to attract an iconic all-inclusive hotel brand took another twist today as Sandals Resorts denied it was requesting anything more than what Bay Street had already promised.

This was in response to suggestions by Prime Minister Mia Mottley last night that the hotel chain’s Beaches brand takeover of the former Almond Beach Resort at Heywood, St Peter, was in danger of falling through.

She hinted of deadlock between her ten-month-old administration and Sandals after rejecting requests by the hotel chain for concessions that would be binding on future Parliaments of Barbados.

Flashback: Prime Minister Mia Mottley (left) and Sandals chairman Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart tour the area where Sandals Beaches is set to open.

Flashback: Prime Minister Mia Mottley (left) and Sandals chairman Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart tour the area where Sandals Beaches is set to open.

The Prime Minister reeled off a series of documented requests that appeared unprecedented in international trade and commerce, domestic public policy and Barbadian history.

Sandals asked to be “made whole” in respect of concessions granted to future hotel developers if their terms are superior to those granted to Sandals – the equivalent, the Prime Minister said, of holding Most Favoured Nation status.

The Beaches concessions echoed the controversial deal sought by and granted Sandals for its original properties from the Freundel Stuart administration.

But while not directly addressing fears that the Beaches Barbados project would be cancelled, Sandals said in a statement that it remained committed to Barbados.

During her maiden Budget speech, the Prime revealed that Sandals was seeking to be “indemnified if any future Parliament at any stage in the next 40 years were ever to tax them for anything in the industry for any goods or services that others in the industry were paying taxes for”.

The Prime Minister said in Parliament: “We welcome Sandals here and the jobs it has provided and everything it is doing in Barbados. we are certainly open for business, but it cannot be at any price. And in our current predicament in the middle of an IMF programme Mr Speaker, there is a limit even to what we can accept.”

With more than 550-rooms and over $600 million invested between its two properties in Christ Church, the Sandals chain currently provides more than 1,100 jobs for Barbados at Sandals Barbados and Sandals Royal Barbados.

The promised $840 million (US$420 million) Beaches Resort project slated for the old Almond Beach Resort promises to provide hundreds more jobs.

Barbados TODAY reached out to Sandals executives this morning for a response to the Prime Minister’s charges and to confirm whether the project would continue or be pulled.

A Sandals spokesman would not be drawn on the issues the Prime Minister raised, and the company issued a release hours later, saying it took note of Mottley’s statement about the stalled progress of the talks “and would like to state that this development is equally disappointing for us”.

“Let me state clearly we have no regrets. Even though a huge amount of money has already been spent on beach work and on development plans, engineering and architecture and a large and able projects team comprising the very best personnel; the fact is we know that both sides worked very hard to try and make this project a reality,” said the statement from the chain owned by Jamaican magnate Gordon Butch Stewart.

Sandals assured the Prime Minister and Barbadians that it remained “fully committed to supporting and working alongside all stakeholders for the future growth and development of the island”.

While pointing to growing confidence in the Barbados economy over the past year, Sandals spoke of having “greatest” respect for the Prime Minister but denied asking for anything other than what was initially promised.

Sandals continued: “We were not asking for anything more than what was promised. The Beaches project, at over US$420 million would have represented not only our largest single one-time development, but the largest long term hotel project in Barbados.

“Such a large project carries the concomitant long-term risks, and as such our lenders who are the banks, as well as our Board were seeking a level of stability by having parliamentary approval of the concessions that were already promised, which in the 21st century, is now the norm.”

The company said it understood that every government had its particular priorities and policies and it “fully respected Government’s position in this regard, and we would never want to put them in a compromising situation”.

The Sandals group is not new to controversy or pulling out of various markets.

In 1992, Stewart bought the Paradise Beach property in St Michael, but later abandoned it after it was hit by legal wrangling and other unresolved issues.

Earlier this year, the hotel chain pulled out of Tobago due to what the company said then was too much badgering and bad publicity.

In late 2017, the company was also involved in a disagreement with the Antigua and Barbuda government over tax agreements in that territory.

In its release this afternoon, the company said since its time in Barbados, it found that working with the department of tourism was very “enjoyable and productive”, especially in the island’s number one source market – the UK – as well as North America.

Also pointing to the linkages formed with local suppliers and farmers, Sandals said it understood the disappointment all around “because of the anticipated impact
of Beaches, which would have moved our total employment on island to 3,000 persons, and when combined with the other two resorts, would have resulted in an annual economic injection into the economy of Barbados of over US$100 million each and every year”.

But the hotel chain said though disappointing, the current development in no way affected its “excellent relationship” with Barbados and that it would continue to “work toward doing more and more for the island because we remain confident that Barbados is in good hands”. marlonmadden@barbadostoday.bb

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