TRINIDADIAN OWNERS of Almond Resorts Inc say that despite over $20 million in losses incurred last year, there are no immediate plans to sell off the all-inclusive hotel chain, which operates three properties in Barbados and one in St Lucia.
In a telephone interview with the DAILY?NATION?yesterday, the president and group chief executive officer of Neal & Massy Holdings Ltd, Gervase Warner, also categorically denied reports of a major reorganization of the management team at Almond, which is owned by Barbados Shipping & Trading.
In fact, he declared that chief executive officer Ralph Taylor “still has his two hands firmly . . . on the steering wheel”.
One local blog recently reported that, owing to serious financial difficulties, a number of staff had been laid off and Almond’s owners were seeking to dispose of the hotels.
But while admitting that “all of our properties had a tough time last year”, Warner said Neal & Massy, as the major shareholder, working closely with the company’s banks, had been able to “prop up” the hotels and to ensure that their doors remained open.
“While that can’t be sustained indefinitely, we are not looking to sell now,” he said.
He also stressed that “selling is but only one of the options”, explaining that Neal & Massy was currently funding a review of Almond’s operations and a proposal for major reinvestment and financial restructuring was under consideration.
“I would say that right now we have a team of different people looking at different ways that we can improve the performance both in terms of filling the hotel rooms and improving operational performance with an eye towards some financial restructuring which is going to be necessary,” he told the DAILY?NATION.
In the case of Almond Beach Village, Warner further denied rumours that the hotel had stopped taking bookings and would be closed shortly for renovations.
He confirmed that there was a project that had been funded by a loan from Neal & Massy/BS&T to upgrade the plant but said the hotel would remain open through the peak winter season.
Warner also defended the group’s foray into hotel ownership, saying: “I shudder to think what would have happened if we were not involved because we have had to extend a lot of support to the hotels during this rough period of time.”
However, he said, “the market is definitely starting to look more positive.
“Barbados is experiencing more visitors this winter than it did last year. I think there is more optimism in the US market and UK travellers are coming back, notwithstanding the new taxes that have been put on the travelling UK consumer.”
Warner also spoke of the importance of the Barbados operations of Neal & Massy, saying: “We are a significant investor in the Barbados economy and we believe in ‘Brand Barbados’.
“We have put our money where our mouth is and continue to support all of our Barbadian companies, customers, employees, shareholders and communities.
“Let it be known that these Trinis love Brand Barbados.”
Last week in a full-page advertisement on the performance of Almond Resorts, chairman Arthur Lok Jack attributed the financial losses to the downturn in the economy. But he reported that occupancy levels began to stabilize towards the end of last year.