Welcome Sandals – We have to be in this together!
Given our history of the announcement of grand pre-election projects, it is tempting for sceptics and political opponents to try to dismiss Wednesday’s announcement by the Government of an investment project of up to US $100 million by the Sandals Resorts chain as yet another of promised initiatives which will not materialize.
However the Sandals chain is an internationally renowned one with huge footprints all over the Caribbean, not some unknown fly-by-night investor, and such is the scope for its impact on local tourism and economic development, that it would be foolhardy to take such an approach. This may well turn out to be the most significant development in the hotel and tourism industry in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
One must always temper initial enthusiasm with reality checks based on experiences because expectations are not always realized for one reason or another, and the failed Buccament Bay Resort project will be foremost in our minds.
But as pointed out before, Butch Stewart is not Dave Ames and he has an impressive track record as proof of his capacity to deliver.
The scope of the project is almost mind-boggling for a country like ours still trying to make its mark on the global tourism market. Besides the huge overall sum involved, there are the employment prospects – 800 construction jobs and 900 permanent resort jobs for the 350-room hotel with a maximum guest capacity of 1400.
This can be a transformative initiative for tourism in SVG and especially for hotel development in mainland St Vincent. The Sandals connection also opens possibilities for regional air transport links for in order to be successful, guests must be brought here. All involved in the air transport sector ranging from aspiring airlines to the Argyle International Airport itself must be excited at the prospects.
But possibly the greatest excitement will be among the farming community and the linkages for local suppliers of goods and services. The promise to purchase 700,000 lbs. of local fruit and vegetables can prove to be a major fillip to the agricultural and fishing industries here. The numbers are almost mind-boggling for local farmers and will present them with serious challenges.
It is not just the quantity to be produced but one must emphasize that quality will be a major requirement. One does not succeed in the international hotel industry with shoddy, sub-standard products and the Ministry of Agriculture will have its work cut out in trying to ensure that farmers rise to the occasion and produce the highest possible quality standards.
That also holds for local suppliers of goods and services because such are regional and international trading rules that if we fail to comply, Sandals, already a significant regional player, can opt to procure from others in the region. We cannot fail to meet our requirements and then complain if others step into the breach.
For all these reasons it would be foolhardy to slight the project or sacrifice it on the altar of political rivalry.
Glamorous as it is there is no doubt that the challenges before it are indeed formidable, both in terms of the actual project itself and the wider social and economic context in which it has to be realized.
For all these reasons it is vital for our country and its future prospects that there is buy-in by all sectors of the society. The political context, in a highly-charged atmosphere, is particularly important. Inclusiveness and sharing of information on the project itself, as well as receptivity to ideas are especially important to ward against suspicion and rumour-mongering. We have to be in this together!