Too big to fail

Tomorrow is August 15. That makes it exactly four months to the start of the 2012-2013 Winter tourism season.

August 15 will also be just two weeks short of four months since majority owner, Neal & Massy, the Trinidad conglomerate, closed the Almond Beach Village property at Heywoods, a few hundred metres north of Speightstown.

There is no point at this stage debating the merit or demerits of the Neal& Massy decision. It is a done deal. Barbados was fortunate in that the decision-makers were “kind” enough to delay the closure until the final day of the last tourist season.

Our concern now, is the road ahead. In the hospitality sector, where everything is driven by effective and timely marketing and promotion, opportunities to achieve substantial positive results can be fleeting.

We are now concerned that after the initial flurry of activity from potential buyers in the days immediately preceding and following the closure, very little appears to be happening with a product that has played a critical role in the island’s tourism infrastructure for nearly two decades.

We sincerely hope that the absence of public discussion by the potential players is not an indication that nothing is taking place, since the absence of Almond during the 2012/13 tourism season will hurt many.

Already Speightstown, which had been on the decline for several years, is showing clear signs of the impact of the absence of business that would have been generated by guests and the 500-odd workers at Almond Village.

But we are fearful that at this stage it is very unlikely that Almond will be able to make a major impact on the next tourist season. It will take time to complete any deal for a hotel of that size — 30 acres and 400 rooms, and getting the facility back in shape to receive guests will be no one-week operation.

Most critically, getting the word out to our marketers that Almond is reopened for business will take time, and seeing results in terms of actual tourists on the compound will take even longer. Re-establishing confidence with our partners providing airlift in the current environment also will not be an insignificant undertaking.

Is it time therefore for those who lead to start considering terms such as “too big to fail” and “national interest”? At this critical economic stage is it prudent to leave the fate of Almond to “market forces” — or more accurately the speculative dealing of a handful of business moguls?

Is it time for Government to engage the nation’s thinkers on the value of public acquisition of Almond Beach Village in the national interest? Many may abhor the term, but does acquisition have to be synonymous with long-term ownership?

And yes, such a proposition given the state of public finances might provoke a sense of panic in some, but have we really counted the cost of not having Almond Beach Village in the national tourism equation come December?

A major part of what this country faces today is that it appears that doing nothing has become the new national norm, the new status quo — nothing happening is a good thing because we are not taking a chance that may make things worse. Unfortunately, doing nothing means we miss significant opportunities — a luxury we can ill afford right now.

It is time for national intervention on Almond — no matter how well intentioned they might be, such a key piece of our economic fortune can’t be left entirely to the people who occupy the boardrooms of the N&Ms, Cranes, Sandals et al of this world. We elect people to lead, particularly when times are challenging!

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