PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – Sandals Resorts International (SRI) citing “constant and ongoing negative publicity” has withdrawn its participation in the establishment of a multi-million dollar resort on the island of Tobago.
“So, it is with great sadness and it is very unfortunate that we had to take this step (but) we believe it is best at this point in time to withdraw Sandals from this project and focus our resources in the areas where we can be more effective,” SRI chief executive officer, Gebhard Rainer, told a news conference on Tuesday.
Citing negative media coverage
Rainer told reporters that the negative media coverage the company has received over the last two and half years while the negotiations had been ongoing with the Keith Rowley administration “for us as a global brand and for what we stand for…internationally is taking on a dynamic that we are not willing to carry on any longer.
Last year, TT Finance Minister Colm Imbert, said the construction of the 750-room Sandals and Beaches Resort represented a major turning point for the economy of Tobago.
He said that the hotel would have been owned by Trinidad and Tobago and equity partners and is in keeping with the objectives of the newly established Tobago Tourism Agency.
“A Tremendous blow’
Responding to Sandals announcement, the Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), Kelvin Charles described it as a “tremendous blow” to the tourism thrust on the island.
“This is a tremendous blow to our tourism thrust, which is one of the intended drivers of the Tobago economy,” Charles said in a statement.
Charles said the tourism industry is labor intensive and the Sandals project would have provided employment directly and indirectly to other sectors including agriculture, agro-processing, services and construction.
“The Sandals brand would have contributed to the improvement of airlift to Tobago, as well as the room stock, both in terms of quantity and quality, particularly in the absence of five-star hotels on the island,” Charles said.
THA Minority Leader, Watson Duke, said while he welcomed the SRI decision, which would result in saving the island’s wetlands, he was still leaving the door open in the future for negotiations with the Jamaica-based hotel chain.
Kamala blames Rowley administration
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar has used the SRI decision to call for fresh general elections in the country.
“This (Keith) Rowley government is not up to the job of effectively governing our country, and the Prime Minister should give the people of Trinidad and Tobago the opportunity to choose a leader and team that can build a brighter future for Trinidad and Tobago,” said Persad Bissessar, whose coalition People’s Partnership administration lost to Rowley’s People’s National Movement (PNM) in the 2015 general election.
She said the position that Sandals withdrew based on negative publicity “is bordering on absurd, and it is yet another attempt by the government to deflect attention from their incompetence.
“The government clearly had no plan with regard to Sandals hence the inevitable withdrawal from Tobago is no surprise. Throughout the process, they kept changing their story. First, Sandals was to construct and manage the hotel.
“Later, we heard that the government would pay – meaning that taxpayers would pay – for the construction of the resort and Sandals would only manage it. Rowley conned the population into believing that Sandals would “change the game” when the Government never even signed a contract with Sandals. His game changers are all pie in the sky desires not viable research-driven policy recommendations,” she added.