Sandals Resorts International (SRI)’s Tobago project is expected to be the biggest ever undertaken by the resort group as it will feature the Sandals brand and its family-oriented Beaches brand.
The Sandals resort is geared towards couples only, while Beaches caters to the family.
SRI corporate services director Jeremy Jones explained this during a media conference with several TT reporters and media personalities at the Sandals Royal Barbados resort, St Lawrence, Barbados last Thursday.
“Tobago will end up being one of our largest projects – both – and as a result of having a Sandals and a Beaches side by side. We’ve never really done that before, but we feel that to benefit economies of scale, being able to bring two operations under one umbrella so close to each other and with our estimation, (this is) an ideal location to do this: the Sandals brand with close to 300 rooms and the Beaches brand about 450-500 rooms. So it’s an entire development complex, about 700 rooms, but two different brands.”
Jones also addressed a recent High Court judgement in which chartered surveyor Afra Raymond was granted leave to seek judicial review of government’s decision to withhold details about the s project. Asked about the development, Jones said: “It’s the Freedom of Information Act and we don’t have anything to hide from anybody. If that is a requirement (under) the law of the land, then by all means.
“We want everybody to be fully aware of what we are doing, because we want the support and the belief and the buy-in of the people of TT to really make this work, and that is what we have done in all the islands where we operate.”
Asked whether this may affect ongoing negotiations, he said: “I can’t expect it affecting negotiations. It can make the negotiations transparent, and if that is required to make sure everybody knows what is taking place, so be it.
“We think negotiations have been fair. If we think negotiations were not fair, we wouldn’t be there.”
Asked whether he was confident that agreements made by the TT government would be met, he said: “We’re confident because in all of the conversations we have had so far – it’s negotiations: you are going to win some, you’re going to lose some. They’re giving and we’re giving on both sides.” Asked whether Sandals was hoping to have the project completed before TT’s 2020 general election, he said, “That’s going to be tight, with a development of that size to complete in under two years.A facility like that size, you are going to have close to two years of construction to make it work, with some 2,000 employees working on the construction site building over 700 rooms.” He also commented on an earlier statement by SRI vice chairman Adam Stewart, who had called for upgrades to the Tobago airport and road infrastructure, saying this was a request which would benefit the entire island.
“It’s not a personal recommendation or request, but we see that as creating an entire development. Tourism operates in a very stable environment, and if you have a clean, welcoming accommodating atmosphere, that is always beneficial.
“The issue of the sea. and moving back and forth. and transportation and the airports being of good quality – you have to understand our clients travel from North America and Europe and are accustomed to a certain standard, and there would be an amount of give and take, as this is a developing region and a developing country. But the standards that you try to maintain and you try to push is to make sure it is of a top standard.”
Asked whether the group was satisfied with progress made in those areas, he said, “I think there has been, especially in Tobago, with the airport reconstruction to take place and expansion. When you look at the amount of airlift that is going to come into the destination at the start of a Sandals or Beaches operation, as much as we try to prepare people for it, you never really understand the issue.”
Jones cited both the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands resorts saying airlift had increased “exponentially” to those islands after Sandals resorts were opened.
“What we saw in Turks and Caicos Islands, we have seen in the Bahamas, airlines like to see where the Sandals flag flies, because they know there is going to be guaranteed airlift, there is going to be guaranteed occupancy in the aircraft and the business community will benefit as well. So our recommendations are based on the experiences that we have had based on other jurisdictions and other destinations.
“In the Turks and Caicos Islands, there was one American airline flight a day flying to the destination. Now we have over 700 rooms there and they are close to 20 flights a day from all the legacy carriers.”
He said all sectors in both Tobago and Trinidad would experience growth, and singled out the agricultural sector, as Sandals sources its fresh produce from the local market. “As a ball park, in St Lucia, where we have 800 hotel rooms, we use close to a million eggs a year, so understand the ripple effect that is going to have in the farming community.
“And that’s just one item. It would also apply to tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage and locally grown crops. Close to 90 per cent of all the produce consumed at the resort in Jamaica is locally produced.”
He said occupancy at the resorts averaged at just over 80 per cent throughout the year, including the Christmas season.
“This is not what you have seen before, this is going to be around 700 rooms occupied at 80 per cent occupancy every day for 365 days.”
The SRI resorts have over 5,000 rooms in seven Caribbean islands and employ approximately 14,000 people. He also addressed SRI’s sport sponsorship, saying it had sponsored both the male and female West Indies teams as well as supporting local football leagues in several islands, including Grenada and Jamaica.
“Our relationship with sport is part of building the team members.”
On the West Indies team, he said, “We have seen benefits and we’ve seen some fallout. We’re hoping for some better benefits to come in the future. (Like) everyone in the Caribbean, we want the best for West Indies cricket.”