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(CMC) – The Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), Kelvin Charles, has described as a “tremendous blow” to the tourism thrust on the island, the decision by Sandals Resort International (SRI) to withdraw its participation in the establishment of a multi-million-dollar resort in Tobago.
“This is a tremendous blow to our tourism thrust, which is one of the intended drivers of the Tobago economy,” Charles said in a statement after SRI Tuesday, citing “constant and ongoing negative publicity” withdrew its participation in the project.
“So it is with great sadness and it is very unfortunate that we had to take this step but we believe it is best at this point in time to withdraw Sandals from this project and focus our resources in the areas where we can be more effective,” SRI Chief Executive Officer, Gebhard Rainer, told a news conference.
Charles said that the tourism industry is labour intensive and that the Sandals project would have provided employment directly and indirectly to other sectors including agriculture, agro-processing, services and construction.
“The Sandals brand would have contributed to the improvement of airlift to Tobago, as well as the room stock, both in terms of quantity and quality, particularly in the absence of five star hotels on the island,” Charles said.
THA Minority Leader, Watson Duke, said while he welcomed the SRI decision, which would result in saving the island’s wetlands, he was still leaving the door open in the future for negotiations with the Jamaica-based hotel chain.
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar has used the SRI decision to call for fresh general elections in the country.
“This (Keith) Rowley government is not up to the job of effectively governing our country, and the prime minister should give the people of Trinidad and Tobago the opportunity to choose a leader and team that can build a brighter future for Trinidad and Tobago,” said Persad Bissessar, whose coalition People’s Partnership administration lost to Rowley’s People’s National Movement (PNM) in the 2015 general election.
She said the position that Sandals withdrew based on negative publicity “is bordering on absurd, and it is yet another attempt by the government to deflect attention from their incompetence”.
“The government clearly had no plan with regard to Sandals hence the inevitable withdrawal from Tobago is no surprise. Throughout the process, they kept changing their story. First, Sandals was to construct and manage the hotel.
“Later, we heard that the government would pay – meaning that taxpayers would pay – for the construction of the resort and Sandals would only manage it. Rowley conned the population into believing that Sandals would ‘change the game’ when the government never even signed a contract with Sandals. His game changers are all pie in the sky desires not viable research-driven policy recommendations,” she added.