The Beaches Hotel: Exciting Times for
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 SANDALS ANNOUNCEMENT
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.
A HISTORY OF INVESTMENT
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.”
NO STRANGER TO ST. LUCIA
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
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.
A SHOWPIECE FOR OUR TOURISM
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
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.
NO HAPPY-GO-LUCKY COMPANY
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.
PETTY NATIONALISM AT LARGE
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?
A TREMENDOUS ASSET
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
EXPANDING OUR HOTEL PLANT
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
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
These are truly exciting times for tourism.
Until next Monday, God willing, do enjoy the rest of this week.