The Government of Antigua & Barbuda and the Sandals Group have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for a hotel project that finance minister Harold Lovell said would be the first project to benefit from a soon-to-be introduced Tourism and Business Special Incentives Act 2013.
“This legislation provides significant concessions to encourage investment in tourism,” said Lovell, noting that it is a “sunset” legislation that would be terminated following its built-in lifespan.
Lovell said that the US$150-million Beaches resort project would triple the number of jobs at the present Grande Pineapple Resort, which it will replace.
“This investment will triple the employment currently in the Pineapple property from 180 jobs to over 700 jobs,” said Lovell. “In addition, during the construction phase, we expect to have another 250 jobs.”
However, Sandals chairman, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, was critical of regional governments, whom he said were taxing the hotel and tourism industry out of existence.
“People believe and governments believe that you can have an un-level playing field and yet expect people to invest,” said Stewart. “Look at the Caribbean, island by island, how much quality development have you seen in the last 10 years in hotels – very few. How many new cruise ships have you seen? A lot. But I don’t know of anybody that wants to buy a basket of taxes that the government of Antigua or Bahamas feel like putting on their product, call it export, try to get business to come and stay with us.”
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer said although he is aware of the criticisms levied against the governments, it was also equally important for the region to get its own house in order.
“You have heard some quite honest, straight forward comments from Butch about his concept of the whole tax issue and we are very mindful of that,” he said. “We understand what he is saying and this is why we have looked at where we are going and determined what is it that we need to do to put us in a competitive position whether it has to do with taxes or whatever the case might be.”
The Beaches resort was first announced in June 2011 but was plagued by opposition-sanctioned protest from vendors in the Long Bay area who felt the resort would affect their trade. Last October, Stewart announced that he was putting the project on hold because of the political wrangling.
Lovell said neither government nor the Sandals group had any intention of adversely affecting the livelihoods of vendors.