Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kerrie Symmonds has warned that standards of tourism in Barbados must improve after Grantley Adams International Airport’s (GAIA) recent Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Dubai and Agencias Universales S.A. of Chile.
He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday to discuss the Resolution: Parliament take note of the MOU of GAIA which was subsequently passed. The MOU will focus on a new Public Private Partnership (PPP) for the investment, development and operation of the airport, a hemispheric hub for cargo, expanded airlift and additional luxury which will cost approximately BDS $300 million.
Symmonds, a former Minister of Tourism, noted that the Middle Eastern visitors to Barbados haven’t been too impressed with the quality of tourism that the island had to offer on previous visits.
“It may surprise this country that likes to flatter itself into believing that we know what luxury tourism is, but the takeaway has been that what we have here is of a reduced quality. You put a Mercedes Benz and a Land Rover in front of them and they want a higher quality vehicle at their disposal. Sandy Lane, as good as it is, could be better. That is the feedback we get.”
However, he believes their willingness to improve local tourism infrastructure is part of the reason Barbados should work with them.
Symmonds added: “If as part of the partnership they are now saying that they will help us source luxury hotels, understanding that that part of the world does not lack money or an appetite for luxury, then with whom should we do business?”
The Minister, who ran over his allotted time but was allowed to continue after a motion was passed, took that opportunity to hit back at complaints over foreign involvement.
“It baffles me because we always look to the North Atlantic. All this talk about who will own and who doesn’t own…the airport is never going to be for sale but the management of it is what we are speaking about,” The Minister said.
“We cannot lose sight of the fact that our precious Sandy Lane is owned by the Irish, so where is the fear of foreign involvement in our tourism coming from? If we can find partners who are able to carry us to equal or surpass that level of luxury, why should we not go there to them?”
He was also at pains to stress that this deal was the best deal on offer, stating that the trajectory Barbados was on would see the terms in the deal be triggered faster than one would initially think.
“The agreement details with the United Arab Emirates from the start of the concession until the pre COVID-19 passenger threshold has been reached (which is the 2019 level) we are going to have a profit split 70 per cent to the concessionaire and 30 per cent to GAIA. I don’t believe that that is a long time as up to this morning the Minister of Tourism was able to announce another new flight into Barbados, this time from the Cayman Islands. Remember that the last deal the International Finance Corporation offered us was 11 per cent across the board. This deal is just under four times that amount so I am baffled as to how this becomes in any way a bad deal.”
After reaching the pre-pandemic passenger threshold to the 20th year of the concession, the profit split will be 60 per cent to the concessionaire and 40 per cent to the airport. In the final ten years of the concession it will become a 50 per cent split. (JC)