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The Beaches Hotel: Exciting Times for Tourism - October 11, 2004

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The Beaches Hotel: Exciting Times for Tourism


Hello St. Lucia,

The big news last week was the announcement by the Sandals Group that it would construct a US $80 million hotel on the Pigeon Island Causeway.


The announcement of the introduction of “Beaches”, a new line of hotel resorts by the Sandals Group was good news to those interested in ensuring that we have enough rooms for “The Best Cricket World Cup Ever.” But it has also ignited the predictable debate about Butch Stewart and his investments in St. Lucia.


For some inexplicable reason, an opposition spokesman has firmly opposed the construction of another hotel here by the Sandals Group, claiming, among other things, that it would give Butch Stewart a disproportionate advantage over other hoteliers. The Government is accused of allowing the sale of 35 acres of land on the Pigeon Island Causeway that could have or should have gone to someone else. It was said that the Sandals Group already has too much influence on our national tourism product, and the Government is negligent in “putting all our eggs in one basket.”


Sandals is no stranger to St. Lucia. The group has been operating here for eleven years – meaning, it started operations here four years before this administration took office. Its three properties employ nearly 2,000 workers and together they
contribute over 800 rooms to the island’s total hotel stock. The new Beaches hotel will take the number of rooms on the island managed by Sandals over the 1,100 mark. The Group’s contribution in direct revenue to the economy last year stood at $300 million.

The new hotel will be a five-star property with 300 rooms and luxury suites. It is expected to employ approximately 350 persons during the construction phase and another 600 fulltime persons when it commences operation.

In a statement last week, I welcomed the news that in order to start the construction as soon as possible, Sandals Resorts International has fast-tracked the design and tender processes for the new resort. I indicated I was also happy that the new hotel will be completed in time to add to the available room plant on the island for Cricket World Cup 2007.

Indeed, it is my view that, rather than criticise the proposed investment just because it belongs to Butch Stewart, we should welcome the investment in a fourth property on the island as yet another manifestation of the confidence that Mr Stewart and his Group have in St. Lucia and St. Lucians.


Sandals has said that a major factor behind its decision to make yet another investment in St. Lucia was what Butch Stewart described as “the enlightened business climate” that has been evolving on the island. He said Sandals was also “proud to be an active player in St. Lucia’s economy.”

According to Sandals, this new hotel at the Pigeon Point Causeway is intended to introduce a new dimension in St. Lucia’s tourism product. The Group says it intends to make this new hotel, the first in the Beaches brand for St. Lucia, “the most spectacular and extraordinary family resort in the Eastern Caribbean”, and that “nothing will be spared to make it a showpiece for St. Lucia’s tourism industry.”

This is no idle talk. Just look at what Sandals has done with the former Hyatt Hotel at Pigeon Point and what it has done with the former La Toc Hotel. Unlike any of the three existing properties, this one will be constructed from scratch, so we can expect a superb product in the finest tradition of the Sandals Chain.


I understand the concerns about supposedly “putting all our eggs in one basket”, but we are not dealing here with some happy-go-lucky company with a history of loss and failure.

The indisputable fact is that Sandals Resorts International, a Caribbean Company, is the largest operator of luxury, ultra all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. Its holdings include Sandals Resorts, Beaches Resorts, and Royal Plantation, Ocho Rios. The group has a total of 12 couples-only properties, with seven in Jamaica, three in St. Lucia, one in Antigua and one in Nassau. Beaches Resorts, which specialises in hosting families, has four hotels in Jamaica and Turks & Caicos Islands. The “Beaches” hotel to be established here will be the brand’s first in the Eastern Caribbean.

Butch Stewart could have gone elsewhere. Other Caribbean Governments are constantly offering him incentives to invest in their countries. The fact that Butch Stewart continues to invest here is the result of a combination of the business climate created by this Government over the years and Sandals Chairman Butch Stewart’s own confidence in St. Lucia and St. Lucians.


Unfortunately, some here have already taken to describing the Sandals Chairman as “a Jamaican.” How sad that his nationality is an issue. I have said time and again, that with the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) just around the corner, it is important to shed these petty nationalist positions. Butch Stewart is a Caribbean man in every sense of the word!

We cannot continue to treat or describe our fellow Caribbean citizens as “foreigners” when, not too long from now, they will be enjoying most of the same rights we will be enjoying here; and vice versa, we too will be able to enjoy the same rights they enjoy in their respective countries.

But then, what’s all this fuss about Butch Stewart being “a Jamaican”? With a company which is not breaking our laws, that is contributing millions of dollars annually to our Treasury and employing 2,000 St. Lucians, tell me, in these enlightened times of Caribbean Nationhood, why should we hold it against Butch Stewart that he was born in Jamaica?


The Sandals Group is an asset to this country. For starters, the group has an advertising and promotion budget that is bigger than that of the St. Lucia Tourist Board. St. Lucia has benefited from the group’s superior international marketing and sales strategies and its promotion of St. Lucia as a favourable destination. Its unique connections with Air Jamaica, for example, have also assured a continued and continuing flow of visitors to its hotels on the island, ensuring an average 90% occupancy year-round. This high level of occupancy has in turn meant continued major promotion of St. Lucia, particularly in the US and Caribbean markets. St. Lucia’s name is on the tourism map, not only because of our national accomplishments and the work of our Tourist Board, but also because of the brand name, Sandals. Sandals is a household name in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. And, just as important is the result that a couple thousand St. Lucians are able to have secure employment and be able to feed their families, pay their mortgages and send their children to school.
Those who simply oppose Butch Stewart’s acquisition of the Pigeon Point property on the basis of his nationality seem to have ignored the fact that the land in question had been available to its former French owners for 13 years, indeed since 1991. Are the critics saying that it should have been left idle and subject to speculation on the market for another 13 years, until someone else, somewhere else, decided to do something with it? Remember the old proverb – a bird in hand is worth more than two in the bush!


The critics also take issue with the fact that the Sandals and Beaches brands cater for all-inclusive visitors. Of course, I would prefer a more diversified tourism product, but attracting new hotels is no easy challenge for any Caribbean country. It is tough business, these days.

We cannot always pick and choose as we would like to, but we also have to ensure that we attract the right investments and that having done so, we have to keep them here.


While it is attracting all the attention, the Sandals Group isn’t the only one increasing its investments here. Almost every major hotel here -- large or small, local or foreign-owned -- has expanded of late. From Bay Gardens, Anse Chastanet and Koko Creole to Le Sport, Rainbow and Windjammer, all of these hotels have taken positive steps to increase and improve their plant and operations.

The former Club Med in Vieux Fort is completing renovations and will be open for business in January under its new name, Coconut Beach. The Jalousie Hilton is on the verge of changing hands and expanding to operate in the super-luxury category as part of the internationally renowned “One and Only” chain. Then, there’s the new large hotel to be constructed at Praslin Bay. There is also Discovery at Marigot Bay, which is already quickly taking shape. I expect others to follow.

These are truly exciting times for tourism.

Until next Monday, God willing, do enjoy the rest of this week.



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