With the sale of the Hilton Barbados Resort said to be at “an advanced stage”, Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy is assuring employees at the Needhams Point property that their jobs are safe.
In fact, he told supporters of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) during a joint meeting of DLP branches in the St Michael constituencies on Sunday night that the sale of the hotel, valued at US$100 million, would be based on the strict condition that no workers would be sent home.
“Whatever decision we make, there are two things that had to happen. The first was that it had to remain a Hilton and the management contract would have to go over to the new owners. Secondly, not a single member of staff is to be affected or impacted by that transaction,” Sealy said.
“So my words tonight to all of the families who might be impacted by that decision is that there would be no job losses whatsoever,” he assured.
It was back in May during his Budget presentation that Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler had announced plans to put up for sale, the Needham’s Point property, which first opened its doors as Barbados became an independent nation in November 1966, and has remained one of the island’s best known hotel properties.
However, Sinckler had sought to make it clear at the time that Government would only accept offers in line with the hotel’s real value and that it expected “to receive no less
than BDS$100 million as the net proceeds from the sale, taking into account the liquidation of existing debt liabilities attached to the property”.
The announcement came as the Freundel Stuart administration desperately sought to shore up the island’s fast depleting foreign reserves, which stood at $749 million, or near 11 weeks of import cover at the time, but have since slumped even further below the desired 12 weeks of import cover to just 8.6 weeks or $549.7 million at the end of September.
Sinckler reported last week that the Hilton sale was at “an advanced stage”, but gave no details on the prospective buyer or any insight into the actual agreement; neither did Sealy who sought to explain before Sunday’s DLP gathering at St Michael School that the parameters governing the sale agreement were yet to be finalized.
“You would have heard the Minister of Finance speak on the issue of the Hilton, but before we can give out any details with respect to what’s happening with the Hilton there is the negotiation and the very important business of talking to the workers’ representatives before we say anything to the public. We have to get everything in the correct order. We will be meeting with the staff shortly and then we will talk more about the entire process to the public at large,” he stressed.
However, Sealy stated that Cabinet was moving full steam ahead with plans to divest the property, as it was crucial to bolstering the island’s dwindling reserves.
“I know that many of you are on the defence about this issue of the foreign reserves and the way it is falling. I understand that completely because certainly the foreign reserves ensure that the [dollar] peg is protected and we have to keep an eagle eye on it. But the truth is you can do things to improve the reserves almost overnight,” he said, while joining with Sinckler in criticizing the Fair Trading Commission over the length of time it was taking to issue a ruling on the sale of the state owned Barbados National Terminal Company Limited to the Sir Kiffin Simpson-led Sol Group of Companies — another multi-million dollar divestment which the Government is currently banking on.