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Commentary: Tourism Matters: Yet another opportunistic land grab?
Published on August 21, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Adrian Loveridge

If I have one single regret over the last 30 years, it is that, after former Prime Minister Owen Arthur was gracious enough to grant a personal meeting to discuss our small hotel sector and, in particular, the then planned GEMS project, I did not push hard enough to persuade the PM to abandon what was destined to become probably the biggest tourism policy disastrous decision in recent history.

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
After writing off hundreds of millions of dollars of accumulated bad debt through totally inept management and systematic predatory pricing, we seem to have finally come close to a conclusion of this almost endless nightmare, with the recently announced sale of Blue Horizon Hotel at the fire sale price of a quoted “around BDS$5 million” to Blue Development Inc.

Normally reliable sources advised that the land tax valuation was $17 million.

I could not find a company under that name registered with the Corporate Affairs and Intellectual Property Office (CAIPO), but there was one registered on the 29th September 2015 under Blue Developments Ltd (#39858).

On the 24th February 2010, the Nation published an article appraising the remaining Hotels and Resorts Ltd properties at $74 million, with accumulated debts of $229 million. That would have valued each remaining room at $303, 278, so more than seven years later to sell Blue Horizon at less than $50,000 per room gives validation to the phrase ‘fire sale’ methinks.

Again, according to reports in the media, the hotel will eventually become one of the Hard Rock branded hotels. While wholeheartedly appreciating the desire to have big brands appealing to all demographic markets, just a cursory look at the Hard Rock Hotel website, seems to indicate that this location is so far removed from the current offerings in other destinations, it is extremely difficult to imagine that it would add significantly to their current product offering.

Bearing in mind the named developers, while mentioning other taxpayer and private sector projects, Sapphire Condominiums and the proposed Hyatt, perhaps the plan is to rebuild the structure to 8 or even 15 floors high. The Nation article stated, “The Hard Rock project is expected to mirror that at Sapphire Beach.”

Even then it is still on the wrong side of the road, unless once again the people are not aware of any outline planning permission having already been granted without any public consultation.

The current average size of a Hard Rock Hotel is 600 rooms with Punta Cana (DR) the largest having 1,787 rooms and the smallest, Palm Springs with 163.

It appears most of the other properties within the Hard Rock Hotel group are all-inclusive, which raises the question again, will yet more concessions be granted to enable refrigerated containers to be imported duty and tax free? As their website proudly boasts the most competitive room rates are obtained by booking directly giving added opportunity for the potential to keep payment and revenue offshore. And lots of mentions of casinos in other destinations.

Will this be another ‘compromise’ to attract investment?

The other question which must be asked, is did any other interested party place an offer for Blue Horizon and, if so, what amounts were proffered?

Maybe government weighed the overall potential benefit and decided on a lower offer, but are they truly qualified to make that judgment, or was this simply yet another opportunistic land grab by property speculators at dramatically below market value?
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