TOBAGO (CMC) – Sandals Resorts International (SRI) Tuesday, citing “constant and ongoing negative publicity” has withdrawn its participation in the establishment of a multi-million-dollar resort on the island of Tobago.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 said at a news conference.
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, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said that 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.
“Within this framework, the Sandals Golden Grove Tobago Project represents a major turning point for the economy of Tobago. The Sandals and Beaches Resort will be built at Buccoo/Golden Grove,” Imbert said.
He added that it will be managed and operated by SRI and that the resort would have approximately 500-750 rooms and up to 2,000 permanent employees with significant linkages to the local economy.
SRI has properties throughout the Caribbean islands of Jamaica, The Bahamas, St. Lucia, Antigua, Turks & Caicos, and most recently Barbados and Grenada.
Rainer said that SRI was grateful for the “unwavering support” from the government here regarding the project including the “consistent transparency and directness”.
“From the beginning there has never been a shadow of a doubt as to what the prime minister and the minister (Stuart Young) are intending to do for the good of Trinidad and Tobago. We are a company that works on the principle of transparency, on the principle of honesty, on the principle of living and working and benefiting the communities that we are operating in.”
National Security Minister Stuart Young, who was leading the government’s negotiation with SRI, blamed a “handful” of persons for the decision by the Jamaica-based hotel chain to quit the project.
“This government tried its very best and put forward its best foot and all of its efforts to bring a project in particular to Tobago that would have uplifted, in our view, the economies of not only Tobago, but also of Trinidad.
“Today what we heard is the loss of an opportunity due to the negativity that was put on the Sandals brand only by a handful of people, and I think that’s the lesson for us here in Trinidad and Tobago, that a handful of people tainting a global international brand …of any Caribbean entity.
“It is indeed a sad day and disappointing day for us here in Trinidad and Tobago as a government,” Young said, saying he wanted to thank SRI “for what they have and who knows what the future will hold”.
Late last year, Prime Minister Rowley brushed aside calls from the main opposition United National Congress (UNC) and other entities for his government to make public the accord reached with Sandals for the proposed project.
“There are consultations that are going to be required. Once we agree with Sandals what the project is going to be …then we can put those details to the relevant authority in Trinidad and Tobago as to what we are about to do in Tobago.
“So if you have not yet done the agreement, let’s say on size of hotel, nature of hotel, location of hotel, then the approving agency doesn’t have anything to work with. So when persons say we are hiding information, we have no information to hide,” Rowley told reporters at the end of the weekly Cabinet meeting.
Rowley said then that his administration was not interested in every and anyone being invited to run the proposed hotel in Tobago, except Sandals.
“We wanted Sandals because of the brand. Its airlift, its worldwide advertising will give Tobago what Tobago does not have now, which is put it in a position to be known to the world.
Rainer said that while both parties had agreed on a memorandum of understanding “we have not yet entered any direct negotiations on agreements and therefore there are no signed agreements that would create or would have created any liability on either party”.
He said the parties had been speaking in good faith “and on their own risk, which means there is no cost from our side …that would be passed on to the Trinidadian government”.
“Any costs that we have accumulated be it from designs prepared…are all our own expenses,” he told reporters.