By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Government needs to find “the right formula” for stable economic development in the Family Islands, according to outgoing Exuma Chamber of Commerce president, Floyd Armbrister, who yesterday said boutique-type resort properties were the way forward.
Expressing concern over reports that Sandals Emerald Bay was facing “severe difficulties in continuing operations”, Mr Armbrister told Tribune Business: “I think the situation is very concerning, particularly for the jobs of the persons on Exuma, with Sandals being a major employer on the island. I think this is a situation which, if not resolved, could have a devastating impact on the island of Exuma.”
Sandals Emerald Bay general manager, Jeremy Mutton, recently told Tribune Business that the 245-room all-inclusive resort, which employs approximately 600 persons, had not made a monthly profit since it opened three years ago.
Mr Mutton explained that high electricity and labour costs, as well as the high costs for visitors to get to the island, had all factored into the property’s revenue shortfall.
“I think the Government needs to find the right formula when it comes to major investors, and the contribution that the Government makes to ensure that they are stable and remain stable, because all of these things have a serious impact on small island economies,” Mr Armbrister said.
“It has always been my view that the all-inclusive was not the right fit for a small island economy. Many others have contended that it’s better than nothing. I agree with that, but I think sometimes we need to not give up a better future for the immediate now, and I think that may have been the situation with the Sandals takeover.”
The 500-acre resort property was acquired by Sandals in August 2009 from receivers. Emerald Bay Resort Holdings, the developers of Emerald Bay, placed the resort in receivership in June 2007, when the loans secured by all the assets of the development fell into default. Sandals has reportedly invested some $80 million in the property to-date.
““I think there is major concern for the island of Exuma. What Exuma and many of the islands need are more small boutique operations, but also the issue of the cost to get to these islands needs to be addressed,” Mr Armbrister said.
“It’s more expensive in the islands than it is in New Providence. I don’t think any government to-date has found the proper formula for the development of the Out Islands; the islands are still treated as colonies.
“The islands have been very unstable and continue to be unstable. We need to create more stability in the islands. The Government cannot sit in New Providence and continue to make decisions for these islands without the input of the islanders and expect the decisions to be sound or beneficial to the masses.”