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EDITORIAL: Govt ought to speak on Almond issue

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: Govt ought to speak on Almond issue

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Earlier this month the public was notified that Government will be buying the unused Almond Beach Village hotel property at Heywoods, St Peter. At that time no real details were given in a rather terse news release. It is only fair that Government speaks to the issue, enlightening the public on its plans.
Most Barbadians were disappointed when the 400-room resort on an expansive 32 acres along a plush segment of the West Coast was closed at the end of April last year. It meant a loss of vital room stock, opportunities for a variety of businesses and, most importantly, jobs. It was a worrisome situation.
The owners of the property, Neal & Massy Limited, a Trinidadian conglomerate, shut shop after mounting losses among the Barbadian-developed all-inclusive Almond group. While the sale of the other properties in the group proved a quick deal to achieve, this was not the case with the group’s flagship hotel, Almond Beach Village, once a major player in the local tourism sector.
Among much speculation it was suggested that three businesspeople – local hotelier Paul Doyle, developer Bjorn Bjerkhamn and Jamaican hotelier and entrepreneur Gordon “Butch” Stewart – all with impeccable track records, were interested in the property.
There appeared to be a flurry of activity followed by a lull – indeed, a sound of silence on the part of the owners. Hence, the absolute surprise at the announcement from the Government-owned Barbados Tourism Investment Inc. on the plans to purchase the property so that the property can be “put back in operation in a manner that will positively impact our tourist arrivals in 2014”.
This announcement naturally raised a number of questions on which Government has remained silent, thereby leaving its people in the dark, with the result that they have come to all sorts of conclusions, from the ridiculous to the sublime. For the uninformed, the announcement of the planned buyout comes at a time when Government’s finances are under severe strain.
So the public expects Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler and /or Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy to take them into their confidence by detailing all the facts. We can list a few of the concerns, all fair and reasonable.
How will the deal be financed?
Will Barbados be paying for the property in foreign currency?
How much is it anticipated will be spent on refurbishment?
Will an international chain be asked to manage the property?
Will it be an-inclusive hotel once it reopens?
Why did Government decide to step in and make an offer, given reports that reputable private sector businesses were interested in the property?
There are many questions to be asked and answered, and the veil of silence that this Government has used to separate itself from a discerning public cannot help anyone. Government must communicate with the people.