A marathon presentation by the Sandals Group left many Tobago stakeholders pleased with the initial concept of a proposed resort at the Buccoo/Golden Grove Estate, and its impact on the island’s economy.
Sandals CEO Adam Stewart assured stakeholders that any Sandals and Beaches resort in Tobago will provide direct and indirect economic benefits to the island through, additional international airlifts, jobs, training, procurement of local goods, and even partnership with service providers such as entertainers, land and sea tour guides, taxi drivers, chefs and dive operators.
They were assured that their environmental concerns will be taken seriously, as has happened with all of their resorts spread across the region.
The presentation detailed the Sandals brand, how its partnership with the destination will derive all-round success for both entities, and its initiatives to support local communities, and was followed by stakeholder discussions. It lasted just over three hours, leaving the interest groups impressed with the initial concept, including outspoken Tobago Chamber of Commerce president Demi-John Cruickshank.
“(We’re) very, very, very happy from the private sector that something like this is happening,” Cruickshank told the media following the meeting at the Coco Reef Resort and Spa in Crown Point.
Among the stakeholders represented at the meeting were Central Government—through Ministers Stuart Young (Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs) and Tourism Minister Shamfa Cudjoe—the Tobago Hotels and Tourism Association, the Tobago Chamber of Commerce, the Bed and Breakfasts Association, village councils, the Tobago House of Assembly, the Buccoo Reef Trust, Environment Tobago, the Association of Dive Operators and other business and community stakeholders.
Interest group representatives also got direct answers to their concerns. Lucille George-Percy, representing the Canaan/Bon Accord Village Council, said the presentation allayed her fears based on the public perception of the project. She asked for information on the environmentally “touchy” areas, and Chief Secretary Orville London assured her that talks are not at an advanced stage, but that all issues, including environmental concerns, public consultation and the proposed design of the resort will be aired publicly once those issues are discussed.
Patricia Turpin, president of Environment Tobago, asked for timelines for a design for the resort. Stewart said a design has not yet been done as they were in the early stages of exploration talks. He said the Group has only so far had a drawing of the resort based on its initial ideas.
Stewart added that the size of the resort, as well as its amenities, can only be determined once the site has been physically assessed and further discussions have taken place.
Stewart said the Sandals and Beaches resort brands will benefit several sectors and industries, including agriculture, tourism, entrepreneurs and business, and human capital development.
Sandals’ group manager Jordan Samuda said procurement is one major area where the brand will work with local producers so they can provide as much locally produced food, drinks and products as possible, as it does in other Caribbean territories.
“Well in advance of us opening the hotels, you will see me and my team, we’ll come here about 12-18 months prior,” Samuda said. “…We’ll engage with the Tobago agricultural society, we’ll engage with the Tobago manufacturing association, we’ll engage with the Chamber of Commerce to get a feel for what’s available locally.
“We’ll then go and visit each and every one of these: large suppliers, small and medium enterprises, and see how we can develop them well in advance of us getting here.”
Stewart said local tour guides and taxi drivers will be trained to provide year-round service to visitors, and added that local businesses will also profit, as the resort chain aims to have at least 20 per cent of visitors leaving the hotel daily to participate in external activities.
He also indicated that employees at the region’s 19 Sandals and Beaches resorts have received training through the Sandals Corporate University from certificate to PhD levels, and that Tobago will similarly benefit.