Sandals Resorts International will not be returning to T&T said Minister Stuart Young on Wednesday night at a forum entitled Economic Implications of the Termination of the Sandals Project in Tobago, held at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine.
The event was moderated by Guardian Media’s Managing Editor, Julian Rogers.
“There is no Sandals project. Sandals is not coming to Tobago. After two years of discussions and attempted negotiations Sandals has picked up and has left. I do not want to spend any more time on my part discussing what Sandals could have been. It is a waste of time,” he said.
On January 15, citing “badgering” and negative publicity, Sandals Resorts International CEO Gebhard Rainer announced that the company will be leaving the country.
Young said there are “lessons to be learned” from the Sandals experience.
“Any successful company has a successful brand, it becomes an issue. If we as a country want to be serious and want to attract investment and successful international brands we need to change our way of doing business. The experience that T&T needs to learn from this is if you want to attract serious international companies and private sector money to invest in T&T we have to respect things like confidentiality,” he said.
He added that it was unfortunate the country got caught up in “old talk” and “negativity” and this drove Sandals, a “great international brand’, away from T&T.
Businessman Arthur Lok Jack who also spoke at the forum said that the project had its origins in 2015 at a dinner at his home involving the Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, founder and Chairman of Sandals Resort Butch Stewart, CEO of Massy Group Gervase Warner, among other guests.
He also said all was not lost and that the project could be revived with private sector investment.
“I am still trying to get Mr Stewart to return. I decided to raise private sector capital to partner with the Government to see whether that would change his mind by removing the risk of Government-owned and controlled. The capital would come from various entities depending on the financial terms agreed.”
He said that Tobago needed Sandals more than Sandals needed Tobago.
“Tobago is nothing. It is our country. Tobago is a hard sell and here we had an opportunity of a lifetime and we threw it away,” he said.