Move over Jamaica, Sandals Grenada is taking over!
Butch Stewart opens LaSource resort, a picture village of storybook proportions
BY DESMOND ALLEN Executive Editor - Special Assignment email@example.com
THE best Sandals hotel in the Caribbean may no longer be Jamaica's to claim.
Last Monday, Gordon 'Butch' Stewart officially opened "the Sandals hotel of the future" -- Sandals LaSource Grenada -- a picture village of storybook proportions perched on a windswept hill overlooking timeless St George's, the Grenada capital.
"It's more than a hotel and more than the modern amenities that's built into it," Stewart said of his latest masterpiece, at a glitzy opening ceremony in Point Saline on the edge of the capital of the Spice Island. "The attention to detail to ensure the utmost comfort and convenience of the guests sets LaSource apart. The work of the designers, interior designers, and the engineers to achieve that has been nothing short of epic."
To lure Sandals Resorts International (SRI) to Grenada, the former Tillman Thomas Government dangled a hard-to-resist tax package featuring a 25-year holiday on corporate taxes and a cap on property taxes for a similar 25 years, plus a waiver on all import duties, VAT (value added) and Customs services charges on all capital inputs for the next 25 years.
In addition, the acclaimed hotel chain received a waiver on import duties for 25 years and a cap on the VAT for 25 years on room occupancy. At the end of the 25 years, there will be a waiver on the VAT on consumer goods, as well as a waiver of import duties on food, alcohol and other drinks over the next 15 years .
"We did it because we recognise the enormous benefit that the presence of Sandals can have and will have for Grenada," said Finance Minister Nazim Burke.
In exchange for the package, Sandals agreed to invest US$100 million in Grenada in three phases starting with US$30 million in the first phase and an agreement to employ 100 workers, while retaining most of the staff compliment of 225 workers who lost their jobs due to the closure of the then 100-room LaSource which Stewart acquired.
Fired up by the warm reception of the Grenadians, Stewart has already spent most of the US$100 million. In phase two, Sandals added 65 rooms to the hotel at a spend of US$25 million, bringing the number to 165 rooms by December 2013 and employment of an additional 225 workers in construction. In phase three, an additional 100 rooms were built at a cost of US$46m, to bring the total capacity of the hotel to 225 rooms and staff complement to about 425 persons.
The Grenada fever caught on and spread to Antigua and Barbuda, then Barbados, both of whom have offered similar tax packages for a Beaches resort -- in the case of Antigua -- and both a Beaches and Sandals resorts in Barbados.
Sandals resorts in the islands have typically set the wicket for big increases in employment, airlift to the destinations, the state tax take, unprecedented global promotion of the islands using the formidable Sandals machine as well as, investment and stimulation of the economy in general.
At Monday's opening, Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell, who saluted Opposition Leader Tillman Thomas for signing the initial Memorandum of Understanding with Sandals, announced that Grenada was already experiencing a six per cent increase in Canadian and American visitors, a sizeable jump in airlift and had inked two five-star hotel deals with more on stream.
"We are extremely happy and excited about the prospects that this brand has brought to Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique," Mitchell said, mentioning the other two islands of the tri-island nation and pitching it as "a fine example of a safe, luxurious and worry-free destination".
Tourism Minister Alexandra Otway-Noel told Stewart: "It's a miracle that you have made happen and all Grenada thanks you for bringing this magnificent brand to our island."
Stewart, in his address, described the hotel as "an absolute miracle", noting the smoothness and "lack of fuss" with which the construction had taken place.
"Something that should have taken two years was completed in 10 months," he told the large gathering of top Grenadian and regional personalities. "Many highly qualified Grenadians who applied for management positions, opted to take much lesser jobs when they didn't get what they had wanted, just to be a part of the action."
He singled out several individuals who had impacted his decision to invest in Grenada, including leading local hotelier and former president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourist Association Sir Royston Hopkin.
SRI CEO Adam Stewart said the creation of Sandals LaSource Grenada had been "an incredible journey
in an incredible country", adding that "every ounce of our creativity went into this project".
He thanked the large number of Sandals team members who had contributed, including Jamaicans Betty Jo Desnoes, Andre McDonald, Shawn DaCosta, Winston Anderson, Jordan Samuda, Jeremy Jones, Heidi Clarke, among others.
There was a special moment of pride when, after a mere three months of operations, Sandals LaSource Grenada received the Six-Star Diamond Award from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences founded by American movie legend Frank Sinatra and whose current president, Joseph Cinque, was on hand to present the award to Stewart.
Prime Minister Mitchell and the tourism minister joined Governor General Dame Cecile LaGrenade to cut the ribbon, symbolising the official opening of the resort which started accepting guests in December last year and is currently enjoying 100 per cent occupancy.