Harlequin and Almond disasters show we’re great at spin, excuses and damage control – but not so great at preventing the damage

Almond Resorts

Almond Beach Village a study in how government loses credibility

Adrian Loveridge, small hotel owner - now selling!

Adrian Loveridge, small hotel owner – now selling!

I would like this week to stay on the subject of transparency and communication in the tourism industry and the underlying speculation, misunderstanding and consequential harm that can result by not ensuring these virtues are carried out successfully.

In both major printed newspapers last Sunday was the announcement of an auction, set to take place the following Saturday of many ‘goods and chattels’ of the Almond Beach Village which closed its doors, just two weeks short of a year ago. Yet in another arm of the media just a few weeks ago, under the banner headline ‘Buying back’ we were told that of the four options on the table, ‘Prime Minister Freundel Stuart will sit with his Cabinet to agree to buy back Almond Beach Village and its brand for almost $110 million’.

The article went on, ‘The plan, being piloted by Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy, calls for a US$10 million refurbishment project, after which the sprawling 400-room facility will be turned over to former staff, who have submitted a plan to operate it’.

The purported logic behind choosing this fourth option was justified by the time the property could be out of service, citing the other three alternatives as ultimately taking too long to implement. Other verbatim quotes include ‘In view of the urgency of this need, it is now proposed that Government seek to immediately acquire Almond Beach Village’ and ‘with a view of reopening in an effort to supplement room stock for 2013 and beyond’.

In the scheme of things, perhaps during the little under three months since these statements were made, so much could have changed. But surely you would in the interests of all those it could effect, least of all the severed staff, explain to the public what is now going on?

The first question would be, that if you were seriously intent on re-opening the hotel in the shortest possible time, why would you be auctioning all or part of  the components that make it operational? Again, it is a classic example of lugubrious communication with not just the industry, but also the taxpayer who clearly would have to pay the bills if the Cabinet’s decision was invoked.

Harlequin Merricks Barbados 1

“Once again, it’s needless damage control when this scenario could have been entirely avoided.”

Harlequin saga known to government for years

And finally, I would like to finish this week on the subject of the Harlequin saga. At first I was going to describe it as the Harlequin debacle, but there has been nothing sudden about this whole sordid affair as the political administration have been aware of it for years.

Millions of Dollars of unpaid bills to contractors, suppliers, salaries  a quoted ‘$80,000’ alone to the NIS and we have not even been told if there are other uncollected obligations, like land tax or VAT. Add to this the loss of possible profits to the private sector, income tax and NIS contributions, corporation tax, compounded by payment of unemployment benefits as a result, exacerbates the situation.

This at a time when legitimate small businesses like ours are owed tens of thousands of dollars in outstanding VAT refunds for over two and a half years.

I really hope Government will learn something from this. It is long overdue that due diligence checks are a prerequisite to granting planning permission and ensuring legally, all ‘investor’ deposits are held in escrow pending an actual title sale.

Once again, it’s needless damage control when this scenario could have been entirely avoided.

32 Comments

Filed under Barbados, Barbados Tourism

32 responses to “Harlequin and Almond disasters show we’re great at spin, excuses and damage control – but not so great at preventing the damage

  1. A policy holder

    The previous Management made a complete mess of it. How in JC’s name can they reasonably believe they can run it now? The GOVERNMENT ITSELF has seen its inability to run hotels! Absolute nonsense and an incredible potential waste of tax payers money.

  2. A policy holder

    I did not walk the grounds of Almond Beach from end to end but what I did see was ruin and more ruin. The grounds are over run. The buildings are in horrendous condition and $10,000,000.00 to restore to full operating conditions. WHAT A FARCE, PLAIN FARCE. With all the buying that will need to be done the $10 MILLION sounds more like the skim and graft that could so easily happen!

  3. Attn: Owen

    The only person who can afford this buy-back
    -and who has a vested interest in it running again-
    is Owen Arthur, Parliamentary Representative for St.Peter!

    Suggest he pull his deep pocket, perhaps in coalition with the Past Staff -and mek it wurk!

  4. casual observer

    Unbelievable, Not Taken!

    I attended the meeting in St Philip, as a local resident, and walked away disgusted with their sales pitch. I cannot believe people have put money into the hands of these crooks, except that they were hoping for lucrative returns – just like betting on the horses!

    God bless them all, and I am so sorry it has involved many naive pensioners.

  5. BBaywatch

    It does seem extraordinary that the governments of all nations involved chose to ignore the many whistle blowers who have been asking questions for many years – especially in the case of Harlequin Property. The SVG government, more than most, has accepted a very close relationship with HP which no doubt will come under close scrutiny if the predicted collapse of HP happens. Although some people may have been initially impressed by the enormous white exhibition stand (dwarfing many national government stands) that Harlequin erected on their first visit to WTM it only took a few moments of conversation with their fake tanned and hair product loaded staff to realise that this was nothing about tourism and everything about sales and commission. The industry knew it within days but, staggeringly, gullible investors and blinkered governments were mesmerised and taken in and the bubble kept on inflating – even the collapse of the Stanford scheme couldn’t puncture it.

    These schemes, specifically designed to keep as much of the money away from the islands as possible, must be rejected by governments everywhere and developers required to show proof of ability to manage and complete on a development before any concessions are granted.

  6. Fatchett does not represent me.

    I’m surprised, BBaywatch, that after the WTM exhibition that you didn’t hot foot it over to the MOS, Panorama or Basildon Echo with your observations. So wise after the event?

  7. Short Legs

    @FDNRM
    That’s a bit feeble from you.
    Anyway, not asked for a bit, how is your pretend title?

  8. Fatchett does not represent me.

    @SL = moron

  9. BBaywatch

    Quite remarkable that the travel industry could see through HP in 2006 but governments and investors continued to believe. I don’t suppose that the lavish hospitality (paid for by investors) and well paid jobs handed out had anything to do with government attitudes and the investors themselves, driven by a mix of naivety, gullibility and undoubtedly greed in some cases simply convinced themselves that it couldn’t fail – it was the spirit of the times after all. Post 2008 you might have expected some to question if this really was going to work, but by then the bandwagon was being driven by the commission hungry IFA’s and other ex MLM salespersons who managed to keep the whole charade alive.

    The one lesson that should be learnt from the HP and other ‘investment’ driven developments is that it rarely delivers real benefit for the countries involved. On Barbados the monument to this madness is the great stretches of boarded coastal plots and the ugly high rise condo’s disfiguring much of the west coast.

  10. Adrian Loveridge

    For those of you that visited the Harlequin stand at WTM 2011, correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t it positioned next to the Barbados Tourism Authority stand?

  11. perplexed

    I have worked with architects, designers, developers, general contractors
    and individual “villa owners” for well over twenty years on Barbados. Have
    all the individual discipines ever gotten together and held a charette to
    try to come to some sort of agreement on what should be offered to
    the tourist? Twenty years ago Barbados had the reputation of being
    somewhat snobbish, stuck-up and indeed a “little England”. I’m
    afraid it has steadily declined recently. Since the best form of government
    is an “enlightened dictatorship” (think Singapore) and that sure ain’t
    on the foreseeable (sp?) horizon judging by the present crop of politicians,
    it seems to me that those professions that are directly impacted by
    touyrism would get together, forget government, and do it themselves.

  12. world class destination

    How the hell would architects, designers, developers and contractors know what should be offered to the tourist. Maybe you should try asking the tourist what it is they expect from a world class destination and then translate that into the development policy of the country. Most would probably focus on quality of accommodation, security and safety, climate and food, history, culture and entertainment, landscapes, wildlife, beaches, value for money (not necessarily in that order). Personally I can get all of that in Europe and Africa, so why would I pay all that money to go to the Caribbean, it has to give me something extra special that I cannot get elsewhere, does it, I wonder?

  13. perplexed

    @wcd
    “…it has to give me something extra special that I cannot get elsewhere”
    That is the exact question the charette should strive to answer.

  14. yatinkiteasy

    Planning approval should never have been given for a project such as H. Hotel in Barbados unless it could be demonstrated by the developer (Harlequin) that they had the funds or financing necessary to complete the project. Now we have an eyesore on the South Coast, and several suppliers and the Govt of Barbados owed huge sums of money.When will our government stop bowing to Foreign developers with no experience, no financing, and who may indeed be running a scam on an international scale?

  15. lawson

    For all those that hated to be called little england, does little trinidad feel any better

  16. perplexed

    I hope I did’nt make a faux pas. I thought Little England was a
    compliment. But being a Yank sometimes we miss the subtleties.
    By the way, I thought wcd’s post raised questions that need to be
    considered. A 5-Star hotel in the Americas would be a 3-4 Star hotel
    in the Far East. Fly 1st Class on an Asian airline and you’ll know what
    I’m saying.

  17. BBaywatch

    Adrian – in 2011 I think that it was Elite Islands Resorts (they were heavily promoting Harlequin in the early days but dropped them a while ago) who were near BTA and that Harlequin was close but not next door. Memory not being the most reliable I looked it up and BTA were stand CA300 (as always) EIR CA 320 and Harlequin CA500. I think the HP stand was the black and gold double decker job that year but I might be wrong.

  18. lawson

    I remember when I first went to barbados there was a derilict building on the beach across from the regency cove and the locals would tell me every so often someone would be found to invest in but nothing ever happened and the money evaporated, thirty years on and nothing has changed. If you can persuade someone to strap a vest filled with plastic explosives on with the promise of 100 virgins what chance do regular folks have when a house in paradise is dangled in front of them.The good will and reputation of Barbados, built up over decades is being lost because someone has fallen asleep at the switch.in the desire to move the economy forward or worse maybe the promise of some gratuity these companies are not properly vetted,and are allowed to prey on your citizens, now and future Lessons some times have to be learned the hard way, but thirty years on and it seems no-one has learnt anything.

  19. Adrian Loveridge

    I am confused – In today’s Barbados Today, the President of the BHTA is quoted over the recent Almond Beach Village auction as saying ‘ There were no items from the operations of the hotel’ and ‘nothing from the hotel itself’.
    Yet if you look at the items sold including water sports equipment, busses etc., that is difficult to understand.

    Can anyone clarify the situation?

  20. yatinkiteasy

    If the president of the BTA said that, he is either a jackass or a liar….or both.EVERYTHING on sale on Saturday was from the Hotel and its operations…even equipment from their in house band was on sale.These people should be called out …Like Mr Worrell at central Bank last year openly stating that foreign investments in Four Seasons and Merricks were going to be instrumental in the economic recovery of Barbados in 2012. Surely he knew this to be false.

  21. Not Taken

    Four Seasons, Black Bess Plantation, Beachlands, Merricks, Almond, and many more.

    Ship Inn, After Dark, McBrides, Plantationn and many more

    When will it end?

  22. BBaywatch

    Just today in the New york Times – a report that even Las Vegas, home of the ‘big box’ hotels is moving towards smaller boutique operations. Large resort hotels just do not have the flexibility to react quickly enough in times of recession and when encumbered with massive repayments to investors just cannot work. There needs to be a complete reassessment of the business models with governments supporting and promoting properly researched and marketed operators.

  23. MANJAK of MY LORDS HILL

    It does appear that we continue to be bamboozled.
    Despite the evidence, past experiences, the history of of hucksters, charlatans, con men and unabashed crooks who wash up in Barbados/Caribbean and sell us poor black folk snake oil we continue to and seem only too happy to partake of such.
    The Stanfords, Harlequins, Four Seasons, and of recent one Verus International making promises that are unlikely to be realised.
    The sorry saga continues aided and abetted by a money grubbing elite Bajan class, unquestioning dumb journalists, and vulgar, ignorant third rate politicians. Working people of course are the folk who bear the brunt and pay the exacting price of hopes crushed and jobs unrealised.

  24. Ironed feet

    FURNITURE SALE – BUCCAMENT -BAY- SPECIAL DISCOUNTS!!!.

    Fancy picking up a bargain?
    Buccement Bay are holding a sale of all our furniture that will be needed in the future, assuming building work will recommence.

    So if you get 10% or 20% of what it cost – what happens when it needs to be replaced???? pay full price again???

  25. lawson

    Manjak you have me totally confused,which of the poor black folk are you talking about, I know of no poor folk white or black that can come up with 500,000 us for a apt. .

  26. investor

    Phoned harlequin today regarding the missed payments. Back in February they blamed it on banking error. Now they openly said there is no money left at all.

  27. Short Legs

    well its still a banking error – the error being no money in the account!

  28. BBaywatch

    Looking more and more like a ‘Long Firm’ scam.

  29. If you have invested in Harlequin Property with a SIPP provider and you have lost your money, we have a solution and help to get your money back.
    We have organised a meeting for the 1st of May at 11 am in London for this specific case.
    Contact us at CPC Worldwide now for information:
    Tel: 0191 3862487
    E-mail: cpcholding@europe.com
    http://www.propertyproblemsabroad.co.uk

  30. Pingback: Hotels and Resorts Part Two? Barbados government to purchase Almond Beach Village Resort – Government will compete against private tourist hotels | Barbados Free Press