Incentives are an investment which do not last forever, but which can ultimately lead to economic benefits for the entire hospitality industry in Tobago.
This is what Sandals Resorts International (SRI) corporate services director Jeremy Jones wants local stakeholders to bear in mind as the hotel chain negotiates with the TT government to build Sandals and Beaches resorts on the island.
The Sandals resort targets couples only, while Beaches caters to the family – and the project is the largest undertaken by the group in the Caribbean, Jones told reporters at the breath-taking Sandals Royal Barbados resort, St Lawrence, Barbados on October 11.
Asked about possible incentives for the resorts, Jones tackled the issue head-on saying while the “conversation” is still ongoing between both parties, the spin-off benefits would also include other sectors such as agriculture, transportation and banking.
“We look at the incentives as an investment and they don’t last forever, but at the end of the day, the jobs that come along would lead to economic benefits that come with this.
"The model we have here in Barbados worked really well, if we can get a blueprint of that, that’s fine, the same applies to Grenada – it provides a lot of incentives for us to be able to be where we are and able to find local produce.”
He said some of the factors they are looking at are transit times for goods getting into Tobago and the time it takes to clear ports and customs before making a determination as to what would make the destination profitable.
“The hospitality industry in Tobago is under pressure, the occupancy that we see currently in Tobago will not necessarily allow the Tobago hoteliers to pay the bills that they have, some of them mortgages.
"In all of the destinations we’ve gone to, we’ve seen that change, as far as we are concerned when the sea rises all the boats float a little bit higher and that’s what we think Sandals brings to the island and to the destination, because it’s not going to be a charity event, we’re doing it to make money for everybody.
Tobago, centre of resorts brand
"So to say that we are only going to be taking, no, its an investment and everybody (is) going to benefit from it because when the additional airlift comes into the destination, not every person is coming to Sandals or Beaches. You are going to have people who don’t necessarily want a Sandals or Beaches experience but they want a Tobago experience. And it’s not by accident that all of our hotels carry the name of the destination in which we operate, which is Sandals Barbados, you have Sandals St Lucia, you have Sandals Grenada. You’re going to have Beaches Tobago, so this tells you the destination as much as you are the brand. So everybody should benefit from that marketing power as well.”
He said once the negotiation stage is completed there are still several procedures to be completed, such as the advertising of tenders from the various contractors for the project.
“We have to determine exactly what’s going to happen once we’ve got the final approval to send the tenders out, so the different contractors are going to be competing and we getting the best prices in place to get that started. So there is still a little bit of work to take place before we get to that stage (sod turning).”
He said the actual construction phase may last approximately two years as over 2,000 people will be employed on the facility.
Asked about the benefits to the local Tobago community, he said spin-off economic activity would increase such as the local farmers, taxi drivers and banks.
“The farmers mostly get ahead of the game from the start, first with the clearing of lands, find out what the seasonality of the different crops are and we will provide well beforehand what the consumption is in every aspect of our food and beverage preparation so the farmers can get prepared.
Farmers to benefit
"One of the islands we went to, two years before we told the farmers this is not what you have seen before, 700-800 rooms occupied at 80 per cent occupancy every day for 365 days, and they say ‘oh no we can handle it’. The first year and a half there, they couldn’t handle it, they were like ‘oh we didn’t know this was going to hit us'.”
Jones said if Tobago farmers are unable to handle the amount of produce required, the resort will have to import the goods to ensure the smooth running of the resort.
He noted that close to 90 per cent of all the produce consumed at the Jamaican resort are locally produced. And to reinforce the economic benefits which come with the resort, he recalled a conversation with an employee at the Barbados Sandals who had complained about the shortage of parking spaces.
“And you wouldn’t think that’s a problem but it caused congestion on the street. So you know why that problem occurred, because there are more employees earning more money, buying more vehicles, financing more homes so there is a lot of traffic and it’s not only tourism, the spin-offs are all over.”
Jones also assured the resort group had "nothing to hide" on its plans for Tobago, in response to chartered surveyor Afra Raymond's efforts to have Government disclose details of the project in a judicial review application of the Freedom of Information Act.
Meanwhile, Sandals regional public relations manager Sunil Ramdeen said the resort did not only offer economic benefits to the respective islands but also provided academic qualifications to its employees, and cited the Sandals Corporate University which offers certification and degree programmes in hospitality, training and management programmes.
“We have members doing doctorates at the moment and this is all borne by the company so we develop everybody who comes in, so we invest in the industry.”
Jones said the Sandals resorts started close to 37 years ago with a single small resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
“Since then we have expanded throughout the Caribbean with close to 5,000 rooms. We feel the brand has grown tremendously with a lot of support from Caribbean countries.”
He said there are approximately 14,000 people employed across the two brands.