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Almond ‘did not collapse’

Gercine Carter

Almond ‘did not collapse’

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RALPH TAYLOR, the mastermind behind the creation of Almond hotels, says there is “absolutely no reason” why Almond should not be operating today.
Closure of the hotel group’s flagship hotel, the Almond Beach Village in St Peter, sent shock waves through Barbados’ tourism,  while the other three Almond hotels were subsequently sold. But Taylor says adamantly:  “Almond did not collapse.”
Instead, he blames the demise of the two main hotels in the group on the need for funding to reinvigorate a “tired” plant and the lack of an “appetite for injecting the capital”, on the part of owners, Trinidadian conglomerate Neal & Massy.
In an exclusive interview with the BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY, he explained: “In 2009 it [Almond] lost money for the first time since we had started the company in 1991. The new investors did not have the appetite for injecting capital. We tried to get Government involved and the process was a bit long and Neal & Massy decided to sell.”
 The widely-respected hotelier said back in 2007, as CEO he had advised Almond’s board “to go back to the main market in Barbados, raise capital and regenerate the product” because at that time he thought both Almond Beach Village and Almond Beach Club in Holetown, St James, the two main hotels in the group representing a major part of the island’s hotel room stock, had become “tired”.
“The proposal was to do a rights issue, raise capital, expand the company. But that was put aside in 2008 and really the company just continued to run [Almond Beach Club] and [Almond Beach Village] which were the cash cows making all the money for 17 years,” Taylor pointed out.
“We needed to feed the cows,” he added.
Instead, he said, when the global recession hit, his proposals  for refunding the hotels were “put aside”.
Reacting to the  final closure of the two hotels, Taylor said it “really was a tough call, because, first of all, my own belief is that there is no reason for Almond not to be here and be pumping Barbados along”.
He asserted  that Barbados had  been “dramatically affected” by the loss of Almond, which he said had resulted in hotel room numbers “plummeting”.
“You are in a tough situation and you cannot afford to have 400 rooms locked up and then two other hotels that have been sold or leased and are trying to find their feet. That does not make good  for the country at a time when you really need everything to be firing on all cylinders,” Taylor argued.
Three hotels in the group of four – Almond Beach Club and the Almond Casuarina Beach in Barbados along with Almond Morgan Bay in St Lucia – have been sold, while a buyer is still being sought for Almond Beach Village.
Taylor said seeing the Almond resorts close “certainly did not give me any pleasure. We had built a big company with a lot of people, the staff had bought shares and there were many staff members who put their hard-earned money in and it was disappointing to see the hotels closed and sold off. But it was out of my control.”
The Barbadian hotel entrepreneur who has been recognized for his tourism skills recently embarked on another hotel venture, the SoCo Hotel, which he said he hopes to be able to grow.