Barbados project to help small hotels in trouble
By John Collins (1)
Reduction in staff and budgetary cutbacks hits Gems of
Barbados; viewed as result of tourism slowdown; others see it as politics.
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – Widely viewed as one
of the most attractive destinations in the eastern Caribbean, Barbados has for a
long time been enjoying the patronage of visitors from the United Kingdom, the
U.S., Canada and elsewhere.
before the terrorist attacks in the U.S. last September (9/11), Barbados was
experiencing a gradual slowdown in arrivals, increasing weakness in some of its
traditional markets and growing competition from other destinations, both in the
Caribbean as well as elsewhere in the world.
has the second highest per capita income ($9,682 per annum) in the
English-speaking Caribbean and an estimated 16% of the island nation’s gross
domestic product is concentrated in tourism ($711 million). Barbados, occupying
166 square miles, has a population of 269,000.
inventory of 9,000 rooms, Barbados received 545,000 overnight visitors in 2000
along with another 495,000 cruise passengers. Even before 9/11 last year an
increasing weakness in overnight visitors had the tourism sector nervous and
then after the catastrophic event it virtually collapsed for the last quarter of
the year before slowly recovering.
conversations with veterans in the Barbados hotel industry, there is general
agreement on what are the problems, it is on some of the solutions that there
are major differences and on one in particular.
half of Barbados’ hotel rooms are in small properties of 75 rooms or under.
There are no properties affiliated with multinational hotel chains although the
Barbados Hilton, which is presently closed for renovations, is scheduled to
reopen in two years. As competition, from elsewhere in the region as well from
other parts of the world has continued to increase, it has been more and more
difficult for Barbados to maintain its position in the marketplace.
Alliance of small properties
setbacks of 2001 the government of Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur came up
with a concept to form an alliance of smaller properties which would benefit
from common sourcing as well as well as shared sales and marketing in order to
remain more competitive. As originally envisioned it was to include 16
properties of various sizes with the government providing financial assistance
to underwrite the venture.
of the properties (12) pulled out of the proposed alliance and in the end only
four went forward with it. They are Blue Horizons (129 rooms), Time Out at the
Gap (76), Silver Rock (70) and the Savannah (100)
already had well-established market niches which continued to patronize them.
For example, Blue Horizons on Rockley Beach has a good mix since it is popular
with visitors from abroad and the rest of the Caribbean, government officials
and business travelers and returning Barbadians from abroad. Time Out at the Gap
has successfully targeted a younger set with its disco, sport pub and proximity
to beach and night life.
Rock, on a two-mile stretch of beach, is very popular with the water sports and
windsurfing sets to which famed sports personality Brian Talma has been
promoting European groups by charter flights for several years. The Savannah,
near to Bridgetown, has attracted a higher level of clientele attracted by its
ambience and cuisine as well as meeting facilities. Earlier this year, a group
including famous American lawyer Johnny Cochran held a meeting at the hotel.
Cochran was said to be so pleased with the property that he started talking
about buying it but Gems reportedly was not interested.
profile of the Gems group did not set well with a number of other hotels who,
suffering from the fall out of 9/11 and the continued weakened market abroad,
did not look kindly on having to compete with an alliance enjoying support from
their tax dollars. Some government officials, including ministers, defended the
Gems project even as the amount of financing it required increased. It is
impossible to learn how much money has gone into the Gems project but its
critics estimate it at more than $60 million. As expected the opposition
Democratic Labour Party (DLP) has been hammering the subject home repeatedly.
of the properties (Silver Rock) had been purchased from a former prime minister
of the ruling Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and his daughter had become the
manager of one of the other properties (Time Out at the Gap), Gems increasingly
became a source of embarrassment to the Arthur government. It recently lowered
the boom and as the result of reduced financing, several top level executives
increasingly criticized by his opponents for his perceived dictatorial style of
governance. He is in his second term and although elections are not due before
January 2004 and his BLP enjoys an overwhelming majority, some observers believe
he will call early elections next year because of the economic difficulties,
especially in tourism, that the country is experiencing and attempt to catch
the disorganized and weakened opposition DLP off guard.
independence neither party has retained control of the government for more than
two terms. With the situation showing few signs of early improvement, it is
being watched carefully by Barbadians, nervous about their weak economy as well
as regional observers.
Other articles by the well known Caribbean author John Collins can be read
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August 11, 2002