IT’S MY BUSINESS: True cost of the ‘new kid in town’
“There’s talk on the street, it sounds so familiar
Great expectations, everybody’s watching you . . .
You look in her eyes, the music begins to play
Hopeless romantics, here we go again.”
– From “New Kid in Town,” by the Eagles
It was the great Sinckler-Stuart pushback: Faced with mounting criticism over its economic policies, which have seen Barbados cast adrift while other countries are moving forward, and with a no-confidence motion filed against it by the Opposition, the Government needed to find a response. Fast.
And so it was that “Butch” came to the rescue.
Mr Sinckler appeared at a news conference with none other than hotelier extraordinaire Gordon “Butch” Stewart by his side to announce a mega-deal, which while expected, had never been announced formally.
The Government, which had said earlier it was in the process of buying the Almond Beach Village property from Neal & Massy Holdings Inc., for US$53 million, confirmed that it would be doing so and also building a brand new hotel resort on the site for close to half a billion Barbados dollars (to be borrowed, it seems, from China). It would then lease the property to Mr Stewart for the operation of a Beaches Resort.
(Beaches is the children-friendly version of Sandals, the latter being for couples only.)
Moreover, it was announced, Mr Stewart was also taking over the former Casuarina Beach Hotel at Dover, which had recently been named Couples, as the latest outpost of a smaller but also expansion-minded Jamaican hotel company. Stewart would lease or purchase the south coast property from the same Neal & Massy Holdings, and turn it into a Sandals.
Beaches in the north, Sandals in the south.
Forget about Stewart’s long-ago promise of a Sandals’ Paradise on the West Coast, which was punted about for years like a helium-filled balloon, finally showing itself to be nothing but hot air and a bit of rubber.
Just four weeks earlier, the Jamaican owner of Couples had feted travel writers at the Dover property to officially welcome them, under the kindly gaze of the Barbados Tourism Authority, and show off the property, on which it had spent a few million to upgrade.
Events unfolded so fast after that that the stories were hopefully never filed by the foreign journalists.
Apparently, the operators of the new Couples Barbados thought they were going to be there for the “foreseeable” future. Alas, they were surf-and-turfed out in an all-inclusive minute. As the Eagles wrote in their hit song New Kid In Town: “They will never forget you ’til somebody new comes along.”
Meanwhile, the announcement of the signing of an agreement with Mr Stewart gave a huge psychological advantage to the administration, desperate to show it was bringing in the new “brand name” players Barbados so desperately needs as part of its tourism sector rejuvenation. With the Chinese apparently ready to finance the whole thing, and with a “cannot-possibly-fail” partner in Sandals, it seemed the naysayers had gotten it all wrong. Here was a Government which delivered.
Last week it began to emerge what they did deliver. To Mr Stewart. Reports suggested that in addition to paying for the whole new Almond-into-Beaches project, the operator (Mr Stewart’s Beaches management company) would be given a sweetheart deal previously unheard of in Barbados tourism: no import duties payable on food, beverage and other day-to-day consumables.
If this was indeed the deal, or even something close to it, apart from the massive loss of revenue to the Treasury, the uncompetitive stance on which it would place the rest of the hotel industry here was not lost on hoteliers.
There was, I understand, a huge outcry behind closed doors. And the administration realized it had to do something. So it indicated that, since the property in the north would be costing it north of half a billion to build out for Butch, any other hotel investor putting in that much into a resort would get the same import-duty-free deal.
That is not a policy, it is a Government looking for a hole to crawl through out of a trap it set for itself, at the expense of all the other small, medium and large hoteliers who have invested millions and millions, and have been solid builders of our enviable tourist industry over the years. They are now to be ridden roughshod over to appease and please the new kid in town, because of an instant policy designed to get Messrs Sinckler and Stuart out of a jam.
But in our great admiration and feelings of unrequited love which we have for Mr Stewart, it seems we are all “hopeless romantics”.
But while we are quoting song lyrics, as they seem the only appropriate way to deal with the farce of this deal, may I remind you of that also timeless Rihanna lyric: “We fell in love in a hopeless place . . . .”
• Pat Hoyos is a publisher and business writer.