Tobago businessmen are disappointed by the latest Sandals setback, as Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley confirmed in Parliament Friday that the Jamaican-based luxury hotel chain has put its investment intentions on hold.
“Hopefully the delay is temporary because the industry requires something like a Sandals to address the economies of scale to make the industry viable,” Nicholas Hardwicke, proprietor of the Seahorse Inn and former president of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association, told Newsday.
Rowley told the House of Representatives on Friday that one of the reasons Sandals may have chosen to “slightly” delay its Tobago resort was because of offers from other Caribbean destinations that may have been “more welcoming” than the sister isle’s.
The chain has currently replaced its interest in Tobago with Barbados, Rowley said, as well as shifted focus to repairing its facilities damaged by hurricanes earlier this year.
“I think they are also very wary of the kinds of welcome they might have in Trinidad and Tobago,” he added.
Whatever the negative voices against the project, Hardwicke insisted, they are few and far between.
“It is correct to have some reservation but the vast majority of people appreciate the fact that Sandals is coming to Tobago and agree that it will have a positive impact. It will be a huge economic boost, not just for the tourism and hospitality sector but the general economy of the island,” he said.
What is needed now, Hardwicke said, was leadership from the Prime Minister to follow through to ensure that his vision for Tobago is realised.
Former head of the Tobago branch of the TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce David Wong said what was disappointing was that the island was still unable to get a clear picture of project trajectory. “I don’t know what the delay is. We didn’t even know when it was coming,” he said.
Wong said he didn’t think anyone in the Tobago Chamber was against the project, but he said it was important to keep perspective.
“Sandals is not the industry. The industry is tourism. It is part of the industry. We have to do a lot of things to build the industry.
“What the country should be looking at is enhancing the general infrastructure of the island in order to facilitate tourism, including improving the airport, sea port, and roadways.
“We should have (tourist number targets) and make sure we have hotels, restaurants, taxis, hospitals and cinemas– the capacity to host and entertain people when they are here. Regardless of Sandals or anyone else we need to be building the sector.”