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TOURISM MATTERS: . . . While Rome burns

Adrian Loveridge

TOURISM MATTERS: . . . While Rome burns

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Even if the promises confirming that all registered hotels will qualify for the same concessions given to Sandals last year came into practical effect this week, it is now far too late for the vast majority of properties to make any meaningful use of them this year, at least in terms of major upgrading.

Whether it was Government’s intention or not, Sandals looks like it will reopen with an enhanced quality product advantage in late January 2015 that virtually every other hotel cannot hope to compete with.

Again, it’s important to repeat that like most other tourism businesses we welcome the group’s arrival and in the long term hope that it will drive additional investment and upgrading on a level playing field.

Despite the continued speculation about added airlift, it simply will not happen until the Beaches property is hopefully completed in a yet indeterminate number of years from now. The short term reality is that we have lost a potential 25 000 airline seats in the interim reconstruction period.

That would not have happened if the former Casuarina/Couples hotel had remained open. Only time will tell if negatively affecting around 5 000 rooms, while rewarding just 280 will prove to be a sustainable long term solution to the overall industry challenges.

In hindsight it’s perhaps easy to see how this situation developed. The trappings of a private corporate jet, a luxury yacht, well oiled publicity machine with seemingly impressive amounts of money running into tens of millions being mentioned almost every day.

It was a tantalising and perhaps almost impossible option to resist in the current economic climate.

When you look across the state of our entire tourism industry, perhaps the closest comparison can be made with Rome burning while Nero played the fiddle in AD 64.

Seventy per cent of the eternal city was destroyed, but it enabled the emperor to rebuild the capital in a style that he preferred. Of course someone had to be blamed, and Nero chose the Christians, who were ruthlessly rounded up, tortured and killed.

Perhaps in a modern day context those victims should be more fairly compared with the disadvantaged other hoteliers.

I wonder how many other industry observers cracked a wry smile when the Minister of Finance was reported as saying, “We (seem to) live in an instant coffee society: everybody wants everything done now”.

Using the same analogy, clearly the espresso concessions provided to Sandals escaped the beverage scenario.

So without what could amount to additional reinvestment in the entire remaining accommodation sector, we are yet another year away from upgrading existing plant. Personally I cannot understand why our policymakers recognise that they cannot provide instant solutions but seriously expect us to.

The danger lurks that yet further tour operators will withdraw more programmes from Barbados, while transferring them to lower cost destinations to meet the more realistic expectations of their clients.

It’s a perfectly natural progression.

You go where your source of business can obtain the best value-for-money with the least possible financial risk.