Don’t play politics with tourism.
That was the stern warning to government from the former minister responsible for the sector, Richard Sealy as he criticised government’s handling of the controversial Sandals Beaches project in Speightstown, the proposed Wyndham Hotel at Sam Lord’s Castle and the Hyatt Hotel on Bay Street.
Addressing Sunday night’s Democratic Labour Party (DLP) meeting of the St Philip branches, he dismissed suggestions that exploits with medical marijuana and the cultural industries could generate meaningful growth needed to move the country forward and blasted the Mottley-administration’s attempts to frustrate key “DLP projects”.
“If we want economic growth, it has to come by tourism for the time being. Let us not fool ourselves. Great work was done in the cultural industry but that is a seed that will develop down the road. Marijuana will not do it either. We don’t have any competitive or comparative advantage in spiritual, medical or recreational marijuana. Let us get real… There are greenhouses in Canada the size of this entire parish. So, explore it and if you can do something with it, whatever.
“But that is not the savior of Barbados’ economy. We need growth and that growth must be tourism led and that is why they are back with Sam Lord’s again because the reality has hit home. You can only curse so many DLP projects,” he argued.
As such, Sealy expressed disappointment with Government’s decision to stall Sandals’ $US400 million investment at Heywoods, St. Peter and Prime Minister Mottley for her rigid stance on concessions which Government claimed the company was requesting to facilitate the 450-suite development.
“We had an active negotiation going on with Sandals and I thought the better approach would have been to call them in and talk to them. They are at least four or five ways you could get around that issue if you are willing to be creative and bring in the financier and say what are your concerns. How can we get around this thing so that you wouldn’t have to tie the hands of a future finance minister?” Sealy suggested.
“Do you know what Speightstown would look like when that is finished? Do you know what that would do to Barbados? The point is that you must put Barbados first and think about people. You can’t think about politics.”
He expressed satisfaction that Government was picking up projects it initially appeared to be abandoning. According to Sealy, after the Freundel Stuart administration successfully negotiated a 2.5 per cent interest loan from the Exim Bank of China to the tune of US $170 million for Sam Lord’s Castle, it would have been “madness” to abandon it.
“Mercifully, albeit a year and a half later, good sense has prevailed, and I understand that Sam Lord’s Castle is to continue. An RFP [Request for Proposal] has gone out to look for private interests to buy a completed hotel sometime in 2021. So, after all the hullabaloo they have come right back to what we were saying, and I don’t know if they thought by delaying, that we would forget.
The former tourism minister also criticised the administration for unnecessarily delaying the construction of a Hyatt Centric Resort for political reasons and charged the current government was only depriving small and medium-sized enterprises of increased commerce.
“They have come again right back to the same development strategy. You can’t get away from it. So whether it is Sandals, Sam Lord’s or Carlisle Bay, you can see that they are just coming along because we need the rooms…new rooms mean growth,” said Sealy.