PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Wednesday January 16, 2019 – A multi-million-dollar project that Sandals Resorts International (SRI) had planned for Tobago has been pulled, with the Jamaica-based hotel chain citing “negative and ongoing publicity” for its decision.
But SRI has left the door open to having a hotel there in the future.
CEO Gebhart Rainer yesterday described the decision as “unfortunate” but said it was in the company’s best interest for now, not to go ahead with constructing the 750-room resort.
“The reason for the withdrawal . . . is the constant and ongoing negative publicity and media coverage that we have received over the last two and half years since the inception of the project,” he said. “. . . For us, as a global brand . . . it is taking on a dynamic that we are not willing to carry on.”
However, he said, Tobago has tremendous potential for future tourism development.
“Would we come back? Absolutely, yes . . . But you need the environment for that destination. The real issue is there is an ongoing prolonged debate on things that have not yet been decided. It seems the debate has taken over prior to the official decision being made,” Rainer said.
One of the concerns about the planned Sandals resort was the impact it would have on the environment. But Rainer stressed that the resort has always complied with environmental protections outlined by the governments of countries where its resorts are built.
“We build where we are allowed to build, where we get approvals, and then we build within an environmental framework that allows us to respect the environment, have zero to little impact on the environment and, wherever possible, actually have a positive impact on the environment,” the CEO said.
Minister of Communications and National Security Stuart Young, who also attended the press conference, further stressed that the Sandals plans did not encroach on protected areas and environmental experts had been advised to ensure all specifications were met.
“We had not yet determined the footprint of the hotel. We recognized there were environmental issues . . . . The application . . . would have been guided by the EMA, the body that is statutorily charged with protecting the environment,” he said.
Young blamed “a handful of people” for running one of the best brands of the Caribbean from Tobago and causing the twin-island republic to lose out on a major economic boost.
“What we’ve heard is the loss of an opportunity due to the negativity that was put on the Sandals brand, only by a handful of people,” Young said. “It’s indeed a sad day and a disappointing day.”
Meantime, Rainer said Sandals was extremely grateful and thankful for the unwavering support, the consistent transparency and frankness from Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Minister Young throughout the process.
“From the beginning there has never been a shadow of a doubt as to what the Prime Minister has been intending to do for the good of Tobago,” he said.