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TOURISM MATTERS: Puzzled by some facts

Adrian Loveridge

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THE ANNOUNCED CLOSURE of Almond Beach Village at the end of this month will take the tally of Barbadian hotels that have shut their doors over the last 20 years to a staggering 33 properties.
I cannot think of another tourism-driven country within the region that can “boast” this statistic.
Without doubt, the latest – our largest single hotel property, with 395 rooms – must have sent the largest shock waves to our policymakers and hopefully it will galvanize them into dealing with some of the issues underlining the causes.
I must admit that I do not fully understand the stated reasons behind this particular hotel closing. As late as December 19, 2008, their CEO was quoted in the much heralded industry publication Travel Agent as saying that “Almond spent most of 2008 revamping its products, and plans of beginning 2009 the same way”.   
Heavy investment
“In the past two years,” Taylor tells us, “Almond has invested upwards of US$200 million in its hotel product, including expansions, acquisitions and refurbishment.”
Adding that “In 2008, Almond experienced a minimal loss in business as bookings for all Almond products decreased about five per cent”.
Therefore if, up until the end of 2008, the existing hotels were profitable and had been “revamped”, why less than three years later is the deteriorating condition of the plant a major factor? In fact, so critical that the property has been forced to cease trading and lay off a quoted 500 employees.
Also puzzling, back in that same feature, Mr Taylor said “that about 15 per cent of all bookings come directly through [travel] agents while another 35 per cent come through tour operators”.
We are left to conclude the other 50 per cent of guests book directly with the individual hotels or through an internal but offshore sales office.
If this is factual, then it is even more incredulous that you would refer to the world’s largest travel reference website, TripAdvisor, as a “menace” in the national industry newspaper, Travel Weekly, dated September 22, 2010.
The expression “biting the hand that feeds you” readily comes to mind.
Operational challenges
Many of the negative guest comments refer to what seem to be everyday operational challenges, like needing a coat of paint, mildew stains, and other cleaning issues, but not requiring massive investment.
Of course the scales of size is different, but the principals are the same and I cannot recall a single month, even week, that has gone by over the last 24 years when we have not made some sort of enhancement, upgrade or repair to our little hotel.
What is beyond doubt, is the significant knock-on effective this closure will have.
Even at an average annual occupancy of 80 per cent, two people occupying each room for a seven-night stay, that’s nearly 33 000 visitors each year – put another way, the equivalent of filling 145 Boeing 777 aircraft or three of the seven British Airways flights that currently operate into Barbados each week.
We can only surmise that in the background, all efforts are being made to fill this enormous void in the shortest possible time.
Of the options on the table, Beaches offers a strong brand with a history of proven success in all areas that it operates and certainly seems to tick all the most desirable boxes.