By Adrian Loveridge
Just over a week ago, my wife and I experienced a staycation at Sandals Casuarina Barbados. An enormous amount of discussion has taken place concerning the extraordinary concessions granted to the Sandals companies and, as I was not personally familiar with the product, thought it was only rational that I tasted what is often referred to as the Sandals ‘wow’ factor, first hand.
Adrian Loveridge has spent 46 years in the tourism industry across 67 countries, as a travel agent, tour director, tour operator and for the last 24 years as a small hotel owner on Barbados. He served as a director of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, and as chairman of the Marketing Committee. He also served as a director of the Barbados Tourism Authority and is a frequent writer on tourism issues
Despite the website at the time showing that the hotel was fully booked until the middle of March 2014, I managed to reserve a room online for the dates of my choice and pay in full at published rates by credit card.
Bookings are processed by yet another company, Unique Vacations Inc., based in Florida and an email confirmation was sent.
Noticeably absent were any taxes or corporate information, including office address or contact details.
Having a few queries prior to our stay, I emailed Adam Stewart, the CEO of Sandals Resorts International (SRI) and within minutes he responded personally, apologising that, because he was currently travelling, he had passed my concerns over to the general manager (GM) of the hotel. Still within one hour, Josef Zellner, the new GM, not only answered my initial questions but went on to monitor our reservation and ensure a seamless check-in.
Over our four-day stay, it soon became apparent that Joe was a hands-on manager, frequently seen in every area of the property from as early as 6 am until late at night. Frankly, when so many senior personnel appear to find the comfort of air conditioned offices more attractive, it was a refreshing change.
At this stage I think it is very important to point out that I have only stayed in two all-inclusive hotels in my entire life, the Montego Bay Sunspree Holiday Inn and the Jolly Beach Resort in Antigua, so any observations made has in fairness to reflect this.
Clearly, even after four weeks re-branding from Couples, there is still a lot of work necessary to fully ‘Sandalise’ the hotel, but you get the feeling that it is progressing as planned.
The vast majority of the staff are friendly and helpful. When I brought up the subject of a three-month probationary work period, a Barbadian waitress we talked to could not have explained it any better. She said that during the current challenging trading times that this was not at all unusual and by no means limited to the hospitality industry.
There were a number of surprises, especially the current very limited use of locally available products. These included Banks Beer (draft and cans), Pine Hill milk, BICO ice cream, BBC bottled water and some soft drinks.
As the birthplace of rum, not a single Barbadian produced brand was available at any outlet.
I really hope that, considering the tremendous commercial advantages Sandals has been given, government can exert some gentle pressure to ensure a higher percentage of consumables are sourced here.
It was, however, commendable that local craft vendors have been allowed to establish a presence on the property to sell their wares.
On check-out, we asked for a receipted bill, but as all bookings are processed offshore, one was not available. Apparently only incidental items including extra charges are payable locally and that again raises the question of VAT and ensuring a level playing field with the remaining tourism sector on Barbados.
Would it therefore be unreasonable for the taxpayer to be told the net foreign exchange contribution to Barbados the company (SRI) will be making, after each trading year?