Wednesday, April 17, 2024

PETER WICKHAM: What’s the fuss?

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THERE IS A curious debate taking place in local circles concerning the construction of a new Hyatt Hotel on Lower Bay Street. Social advocate David Comissiong is leading the charge on behalf of the “masses” arguing they are likely to be impacted negatively by this project. Comissiong’s views have been well-articulated and focus on the extent to which the Hyatt would restrict access to one of our more popular beaches and impose a foreign agenda on our tourism sector. 

These are both well-intentioned arguments, with which I fundamentally disagree.

The matter of beach access is one of the few social issues that is properly settled as the suggestion that we should either create private beaches or restrict access thereto has been soundly rejected on each occasion it has been put forward.  Similarly, it is an open secret that the fate of the Paradise property (in its original format) was negatively impacted by our unwillingness to yield to the purchaser’s demand for a private beach.

Against this background, I would sooner expect a Government to propose a devaluation than to approve a development which impacts negatively on beach access. We collectively appear to have struck an understanding among ourselves that tourism development can take place within the four walls of our cultural demands regarding beach access. Barbados is already home to tourism projects such as the Sandy Layne Resort and the Hilton which are as or more luxurious than the Hyatt intends and these prosper within the context of unrestricted beach access.  There is, therefore, no good reason grounded in beach access that should prevent this project from going ahead.

There is also reference to the location of this project which will be adjacent to Brown’s Beach, which is preferred by locals. Certainly, the project would change the “mood” of the area by imposing a larger number of tourists; however, there is an equal point that the area could already do with an upgrade.  The buildings that run along this stretch from the Yacht Club to the Pierhead leave much to be desired. 

The other angle raised by Comissiong is more complex and presents the notion of local versus foreign tourism.  The idea that the Hyatt represents a foreign element in our industry is compelling; however, one is equally compelled to ask whether the proverbial horse has already bolted. We already have the Hilton, Fairmont, Radisson, Holiday Inn and Marriott, while we are desperately trying to complete Four Seasons and Wyndham Resorts. Sandals is one of the more successful Caribbean brands which has recently taken root here but anyone who visits struggles to identify any noticeable distinction between this and the other “foreign” brands.

Across the region countries are clamouring to attract these brands and in most cases governments have either constructed the properties and handed them to the brands to manage or has facilitated their establishment with generous concessions. The logic is rooted in economics as these brands also work to fill their rooms by way of promotion and their well-established loyalty networks. Comparatively, local tourism establishments are either unwilling or unable to lure as many tourists to Barbados and while they can keep more of their foreign exchange in the country, the foreign brands can generate a considerably greater quantity of foreign exchange with their established networks that facilitate promotion.

In a situation where Government is trying to grow the economy and create jobs with tourism being the main vehicle, the choice between local and foreign brands is a “no-brainer”.

Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). Email: peter.w.wickham@gmail.com

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