02 February, 2010
What did Osborne and Victor think they were doing? I was living in
Anguilla in 1976. I was the Magistrate. I know, that makes me old. More than that, it means I was present in 1978 when Emile Gumbs’ government adopted Anguilla’s first tourism policy. With expert guidance, Anguilla studied the various models of tourism development in the region. We came to the conclusion that the secret to success was to hold to a low-density, up-market product. This policy was enthusiastically adopted by Emile’s government, Ronald’s subsequent 1980 government, and Hubert’s. So, what happened to make us lose sight of the aim?
On 5 June 2007, Dr Aidan Harrigan issued a cautionary address when delivering the 7th Walter G Hodge Memorial Anguilla Day Lecture. Everything was going well then, but he saw the danger. That was six months before the present recession hit us. He warned us at the time that the ten hotel projects recently approved by the Government were a disaster waiting to happen. Do we remember the nature of the catastrophe that he warned awaited us?
Executive Council next proceeded to consider approval of the construction of over 4,000 additional rooms. They dealt with over a dozen major new hotel/condominium projects. No independent Environmental Impact Studies were required. These new projects were intended all to have been on stream by the year 2020.
I actually get more than his ten projects, I get fourteen. In alphabetical order, the ones I know about are:
1. Altamer Marina and Hotel expansion 164 units
2. Cap Juluca
Cove Bay expansion 360 rooms
3. Crocus Bay Development 50 rooms
4. CuisinArt Resort expansion 93 guest rooms and suites
5. Fairmont Hotel and Golf Course 730 rooms and suites
6. Flag Luxury Hotel & Golf Course 450 rooms
7. Frangipani Hotel expansion 50 rooms and 6 villas
8. Long Bay Development 41 villas and 14 apartments
9. Rendezvous Bay Hotel expansion 450 rooms
10. Shoal Bay Development 100 rooms
11. Seychelles Hotel Unknown
12. Viceroy Hotel on Barnes Bay 350 rooms
13. Viceroy Hotel on
Unknown Meads Bay
14. Viceroy Hotel on
Unknown Savannah Bay
How many Anguillian hotel development projects in the period 2006-2010 do you know about?
It is difficult to estimate the number of hotel rooms involved in these 14 projects that I know about. Villas, units, and suites are multi-room accommodation units. They involve any number of rooms. Dr Harrigan’s best estimate was that, by the year 2020,
Anguilla would be attempting to fill a total of 5,000 rooms. Do remember that US visitors on average only come for a week at a time. We would have to fill each of these rooms each week or two at the most. These are double rooms, which means that 5,000 rooms could on average hold 10,000 visitors. It does not take a lot to work out that we would have needed to find 15,000 hotel staff to accommodate them comfortably. The pressure this number would mean on our schools, hospitals, roads, electricity, water, waste disposal, mortuaries, is unimaginable.
The unsustainability of this approach is overwhelming. Let us be honest. We could not have managed it. There would have been island-wide melt-down. We simply could not have got 10,000 visitors into
Anguilla, and out, every weekend. American Eagle, LIAT and the Access Tsarina’s Anguilla Express would have to be working around the clock. The present one-lady post at Customs at would have had to be multiplied ten times to deal with the traffic. Blowing Point Port
The impossibility eventually impacted even our leaders. They put in place a moratorium on future hotel licences. It did not last for long. They then promptly proceeded to make exceptions. For their friends only, of course! All done with God’s blessing!
It is not correct to say that the recession rescued us. The recession compounded the problem. There was no accommodation for the needed extra 15,000 hotel staff. Osborne and Victor hit on a solution. They encouraged poor Anguillians to borrow heavily from the banks. We were supposed to invest in building apartment complexes. We would make our money from accommodating the foreign, imported staff needed to work at these hotels. Then the recession hit. There are no renters for the existing or planned apartments. The apartment complexes lie empty. Meanwhile, the bank loans had to be repaid. With no income to make it possible. The s*** had hit the fan.
That is where we are now.
Where do we go from here?