Barbados’ luxury villa and condo accommodation may be the island’s golden egg as Government and tourism officials try to revive the tourism sector from decimation by the COVID-19 pandemic.
That’s the view of Andrew Mallalieu chief executive officer of regional real estate company Terra Caribbean during a virtual Press conference today which also included operating officer Hayden Hutton along with British realtor Edward de Mallet Morgan.
Once criticised by some hotel operators as unfairly competing with hotels, it is now predicted that the more than 850 registered upmarket villas and condominiums will be the first to start attracting visitors once Barbados’ air access resumes to international flights. Most villas and condos feature a minimum of two to three bedrooms.
According to Mallalieu: “In the market that we participate in . . . we are lucky because villas are very well capitalized. They are generally owned by wealthy people. It’s usually their second, or third home or even fourth home. They are trophy properties. The owners pay the expenses and while they rent them, those rents only contribute towards the expenses of the property.
“The other good thing is that guests can quarantine in the properties. You can stay there without mixing like in a hotel. You don’t have to mix with other people. You are in a self-contained property.”
What was even more important, Mallalieu noted, was the job security many villa employees enjoy as most have retained their jobs. He revealed that villa owners have continued to keep their staff on payroll in order to maintain their real estate investments on the island.
At the same time, the Terra head admitted there was a great uncertainty about the future of tourism and the impact of an extended closure of the sector on the island’s economy.
Stressing how dire the situation could become, Mallalieu told the media: “Forty per cent of our GDP [gross domestic product] comes from tourism and 30 per cent of employment being in the sector, it may even be higher than that. But when there are no flights, there are no guests and there is no revenue. We have seen falloffs of bookings from Canada, from the United States, United Kingdom or Germany; we have never seen cancellations en masse from every market. We [went] from being 100 per cent occupied . . . to having zero.”
The long-standing realtor whose family has been in the business for several decades, conceded that there might be some justification for greater diversification of the economy away from such a heavy dependence on tourism.
“We have seen the reports of how many have gone out of businesses or going out of business . . . . Tour operators who were very thinly capitalized, many of them are going out of business. Then you have the spillover effects from the rental car companies, restaurants, catamarans, watersports, jet-ski operators, the guy selling his wares on the beach, taxis, retail – everything came to an end overnight,” he lamented.
However, the Terra executives insisted that the island had many God-given attributes to exploit for the benefit of the population and the country’s future growth.