Sandals Negotiating for New Tobago Resort
PHOTO: Sandals Resorts is negotiating for a new resort in Trinidad & Tobago. Shown here is Trinidad’s Bamboo Cathedral. (photo by Brian Major)
Officials at all-inclusive resort operator Sandals Resorts International (SRI) confirmed Tuesday the firm is in negotiations to launch what would be its first resort in Trinidad & Tobago. But last week’s announcement of the plan by the country’s prime minster drew immediate questions and some opposition from some local residents and tourism stakeholders.
Dr. Keith Rowley, prime minister of the dual-island nation, announced at a political meeting last week that his administration is negotiating with SRI for a 750-room resort on Tobago. A SRI spokesperson said Tuesday “I can confirm Sandals is in discussions with the government and looks forward to the prospect of bringing its brands to the destination.“
In a Trinidad Express report, Rowley is quoted saying the Inter-American Development Bank “is eager to fund the project,” adding, “the evaluation of the proposals from the consultants are in and the Works Minister advised that by the July 1 the consultants who will be hired to plan the route and do the conceptual designs would be on the job.”
Rowley said his administration plans “to diversity the economy with focus on developing the tourism industry,” and said SRI resorts in the Bahamas, Antigua, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Grenada and Barbados” generate “some of the best foreign-exchange earning in the Caribbean.”
Yet the project is not bereft of detractors. Local residents have launched a Facebook page entitled “Save No Man’s Land,” in reference to the name of the area SRI is reportedly targeting for the resort.
In addition, an online petition calling for “the Tobago House of Assembly to commence full and complete disclosure on the plans for the resort and to host public discussions as a matter of urgent public importance among stakeholders to get their views on this major project” has reportedly garnered nearly 900 signatures.
In a June 21 post on the Save No Man’s Land Facebook page, members of the Tobago arm of the Hotel and Tourism Association complain they “have not been a part of initial talks relating to a proposed Sandals (resort) in Tobago.”
Furthermore, a CaribbeanNewsNow.com report outlines the local concerns as ranging from the resort’s impact on Trinidad & Tobago’s economy to its effect on the environmentally sensitive region proposed for the new resort, which is within proximity of Tobago’s Buccoo Reef and Nylon Pool.
Citing Trinidad & Tobago Tourism Development Company Ltd. data, the Trinidad Express article says the country had 2,697 hotel and guest house rooms in 2012, plus 94 bed-and-breakfast facilities, for a total of 2,791 rooms.
An additional 750 SRI rooms would represent a 25 percent increase in the country’s total room count. Trinidad & Tobago has traditionally been a strong oil-producing country but with oil prices down sharply worldwide, Rowley’s government has identified tourism as a major potential contributor to the island’s economy.
In a Trinidad & Tobago Guardian online report, John Bell, a former director general and CEO of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) and current honorary member of the Trinidad Hotel Restaurants and Tourism Association (THRTA), said a Sandals resort in Tobago would attract more North American visitors and build “international consumer demand” for vacations in the country.
Bell called Tobago tourism a “basket case” plagued by a small, outdated airport, a lack of quality accommodation options, few direct flights from major gateways, insufficient tourism incentives and “a complete absence” of destination brand promotion.
Despite Bell’s views, Trinidad & Tobago has a recent track record of tourism success. The destination hosted 439,749 overnight visitors in 2015 according to Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) data, a 6.6 percent increase over 2014.
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