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Community Articles, Hospitality,

The right things were said at TCI Invest 3rd Conference, but those talks must now become actionable

“If all we are is a conduit for other people to make money then I’m failing my people as a leader.” – Hon. Charles Washington Misick

Introduction

Invest Turks and Caicos held its third annual economic conference under the theme “Strengthening Our Domestic Investment Landscape.” This conference provided a lot of hope for the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands as the right things were said by the Premier and the Deputy Premier. The Premier said, “If all we are is a conduit for other people to make money then I’m failing my people as a leader.” There were also breakout sessions and the issues and challenges that the residents particularly Turks and Caicos Islanders faced were discussed with recommended solutions. If an action plan is implemented because of what was said and discussed, we should see a radical transformation on the landscape of the locals participating in the domestic investment.

I know many people are fed up and tired of all the “talks” by this Government and successive Governments but given that Invest TCI has brought many people together to review and upgrade the National Investment Policy speaks volume. Therefore, we must hold the Government and Invest TCI accountable to ensure that business environment is enabled so that more Turks and Caicos Islanders can participate effectively in this booming economy.

Access to Financing

Access to Financing was the biggest challenge that locals faced. The locals have great ideas, but they are struggling getting the financing they need to make their dreams become reality. The Deputy Premier, Hon. E. J Saunders stated that the Government is in discussions with the banks and other lending institutions to be more friendly to the local businesses. The Premier, Hon. C. Washington Misick also talked about implementing a financial institution so that locals can have access to financing like what was done in the past with the former TCI Invest.

Too much government bureaucracy and red tape

Everyone including the Government acknowledged that there is too much government bureaucracy and red tape. As a result, residents either delay their plans to start a business or don’t even start at all as this is a deterrent to businesses and potential business owners. We need to simplify doing business in the Turks and Caicos. Of course, this leads to the next point.

Limited ICT Infrastructure

Limited ICT Infrastructure was the third challenge that most people faced in the Turks and Caicos. The Government said they intend to address this issue by building a local fibre network It was also stated that it was unfair that the residents of the North Caicos and South Caicos have to travel to Providenciales to do their banking. The Deputy Premier assured the people that the banks are working on a solution for the other islands.

Linkages for domestic businesses

The guest speaker for the event was Carolyn McDonald Riley who shared with us how in Jamaica their hoteliers and the local suppliers are working together and helping each other. Based on what read and hear from some of the local businesses, they find it challenging linking with many of the hoteliers to use their products. In Jamaica, they have several events throughout the year where the local businesses can display and sell their products and services. I think this is something that we should consider doing in the Turks and Caicos Islands. During this discussion, the Premier recommended that we focused on providing attractions and activities for the tourists. Of course, this does not solve the issue of linking with the hoteliers but if you are able to develop attractions for guests and market your business properly, you may just be able to attract more visitors to your business without even linking with the hoteliers as guests want things to do while they are in the country.

Look at other industries other than tourism

While tourism will perhaps be the mainstay of our economy for many years, many of us were encouraged to look beyond tourism. Focused on other industries such as agribusiness, financial services, and energy.

Conclusion

The Turks and Caicos Islands have millions of dollars flowing in the economy and so we must ensure that the locals are able to benefit significantly from the foreign direct investment. We can do so by ensuring access to financing is available and removing the government bureaucracy and red tape. As the Premier said, he does not want the Turks and Caicos to continue to be a shoe box economy.  I will end again with his quote  “If all we are is a conduit for other people to make money then I’m failing my people as a leader.”

Beaches pictures
Community Articles, Hospitality,

Superb Customer Service and a real vacation at Beaches Resort.

Introduction

I do believe we need a significant improvement in the customer service in the Turks and Caicos Islands among the public and private sectors. However, I cannot say this about Beaches Resort having spent the weekend there from May 7th to 9th, 2021.

Our middle child DJ turned twelve and we wanted to do something special for him especially since he will be graduating from elementary school. Therefore, we decided to surprise our boys and booked the weekend at Beaches Resort.

I have stayed at quite a number of resorts around the world and the only other resort that provided the type of service that Beaches Resort provided was Four Seasons.

Well done to the staff including the General Manager for the hospitality that my family and I experienced during our stay at Beaches. If you are consistent in your service, customers will want to come back no matter how much they pay.

Superb customer service

From the moment, my family and I arrived at the gate at Beaches, we were greeted with great customer service and when we arrived at the entrance, we were greeted by the General Manager. I never met the General Manager but somehow he knew my family and I as he was expecting us as we were on the list of arrivals. They arranged for a golf cart to take us to the Italian Village where we stayed.

We left our luggage at the reception area of the Italian Village and when we arrived at our room, our luggage was there. During our entire time at Beaches, I found the staff to be very friendly. In fact too friendly as I thought it was too good to be true. When the staff passed you by, they greeted with you with your last name.  There were some places we were looking for that we could not find and the staff not only directed us where we wanted to go, they took us there.  

A client of mine mentioned how she took her daughter to Beaches and when they arrived at a particular restaurant, her daughter did not like what was on the menu so the waiter went to the other restaurant to get the desired food that her daughter wanted and brought it to them.

The customer service at Beaches was indeed the best customer service I have ever experience in the Turks and Caicos Islands. They go the extra mile for you. It seems it is a culture that the organization has created.

A real vacation

Even though our stay was short, it was a real vacation for I did not do any work at all. While we live on the island of Providenciales where Beaches is located but when you are there, it felt like you were in a different place. There were so many restaurants to choose from. There was one restaurant that was opened until 11pm and we sure took advantage of that. There were also multiple pools. However, the waterparks were the highlights for our family and our children did not want to get off the slides. There was also a game room that remained opened until 11pm.

Conclusion

If you really want to get away from it all, rather than spending money on airline tickets to travel overseas, save your money and enjoy your time locally at Beaches Resort even if it is only for one night.

I cannot speak on behalf of the other guests at Beaches Resort, but based on my experience,  I can certainly say that other places in the Turks and Caicos should learned a lesson or two from Beaches customer service.

Butch Stewart
Hospitality,

A tribute to Hon. Gordon “Butch” Stewart.

Introduction

This article is dedicated to the late Gordon “Butch” Stewart, hotelier and a businessman that I admired for many years. Even though I did not know him personally, I know of him and his significant contribution to the tourism industry in the Turks and Caicos Islands and of course the rest of the Caribbean.

I remembered when I returned home in 1991, a hotel structure was on Grace Bay and apparently was there for a while and it was supposed to be Sheraton Hotel. It didn’t look like that hotel was going to complete. According to Hon. Washington Misick, (the Chief Minister at that time), the Developer (John Armour) wanted to amend and extend the development agreement. However, Hon. Misick agreed to the request provided the developer purchased a performance bond. The Developer purchased the bond from Zurich Insurance and as a result the project was completed and became known as the Royal Bay Resort. In 1996 during the reign of Hon. Derek Taylor as Chief Minister, Mr. Butch Stewart purchased the hotel and transformed it into Beaches Resort which was in my opinion the beginning of the transformation of the tourism industry in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Beaches is the largest resort with 758 rooms and has over 1800 employees. According to an article in the TCI Sun, “Beaches pays more than $600,000 a month, $2,5Million in payroll a month, $700,000 to Fortis a month, and $19million to Provo Airport from arriving guests and $2million annually to taxi drivers”

Butch Stewart and his contribution

Mr. Stewart was born on the island of Jamaica and came from humble beginnings. He started out in business from the age of 12 when he bought a canoe and used that canoe to get fish and in turn sold them to hotels. In 1968, he founded Appliance Traders Ltd selling air conditioners. Then in 1981, he bought two derelict and abandoned hotels and this became the beginning of the Sandals Resort. Sandals Resort is the leading all-inclusive resort for couples in the Caribbean and there are currently 15 located all over the Caribbean. In addition to Sandals, there are 3 Beaches Resorts which are for families.

Mr. Stewart was a risk taker, a man of action, a great negotiator and he has left a legacy that will be hard to fill. He was criticized by many (including myself) in many Caribbean Islands including the Turks and Caicos but because of him, he revolutionize the economies of the Caribbean islands. His company spent millions of dollars on marketing and developing a household brand called Sandals and Beaches. The Caribbean islands benefited from his marketing because the islands were marketed the same time as the Resorts. In fact his marketing budget was more than most of the islands of the Caribbean individual budgets combined. Because of the Brand, the Turks and Caicos Islands were able to get additional airlines to the country due to the demand. Mr. Stewart was also a community oriented person and established community foundations, adopted schools and assisted the communities tremendously. Apparently, he also ensured that his employees were taken care of based on the remarks below.

Employees’ remarks about Butch Stewart

Because I did not know Mr. Stewart personally, I asked two employees from Beaches to describe him. One employee said “He was amazing. Great charisma, very approachable. Hospitality Giant icon. Every word that came out of his mouth was something to learn. Very friendly.”

Another employee said “He was one of a kind man who will never be replaced. Imitated but never replaced. He was very respectful and would never pass a team member without acknowledging them with a kind word or short conversation. He believed in taking care of the team members so that they can take care of the guests. A part of our mission statement says “we are family that cares about our team members, our environment and the countries in which we operate.” During the pandemic, team members were given some sort of compensation or food packages including thousands of gallons of water.  There was a time where some of the landlords put some of the team members out of their apartments because they could not pay the rent any longer and as a result some of them were housed on Beaches property for free and were fed daily. Mr. Stewart was kind and respectful to all. He will be sadly missed.”

Conclusion

Mr. Stewart was indeed a hospitality icon. I always wondered what the Turks and Caicos Islands would have been like if Beaches did not come here. In 1995, we only had 79,000 tourists by airline. Today we have over 400,000 tourists arriving.  Of course, I cannot give full credit to Mr. Stewart for this because in 2003 to 2007 under the reign of Michal Misick, the country spent quite a significant amount of money on marketing becoming a Household name. However, I still believe that the introduction of Beaches to the Turks and Caicos in 1996 triggered the start of a vibrant tourism industry and for that, I am grateful. Thank you for Mr. Stewart for your contribution to the Caribbean. Rest in Peace.

Unpaid debts
Community Articles, Hospitality,

The Abandonment Claim and the Encouragement of Development Bill for Beaches Resort

Introduction

I have stated multiple times about my thankfulness and gratitude to the contribution that Beaches Resorts have made to this country.   After the Government conducted an audit of the hotels and restaurants in the Turks and Caicos in 2016/17, it was revealed a significant amount was owed by Beaches Resort. Beaches resort on the other hand claimed they do not owe anything and the Government owed them because they were paying the Government taxes for children under 12 when really and truly they should not have been paying as the law does not allow collection of taxes for guests under 12.

This month, the Government not only presented a motion in the House to write off the Beaches Resort debt but they also presented the Encouragement of Development (Amendment) Bill 2020.

Motion to write off disputed tax remittance

A motion was presented to write off $9,864,324.15. According to the motion, Beaches was paying 12% of 60% of the money collected by guests. The motion stated that was the law at that time. It did not specifically say the law. No law should be in place to only pay a percentage of the taxes collected. If you collected taxes then all should be paid over to the Government.

The motion also mentioned about the Hotel and Restaurant Taxation Amendment in 2013 that required all hotels and restaurant to pay 12% on the charges collected by guest. The motion also included references to the letter that Hon. Washington Misick wrote to Beaches in 2013 stating that the taxation amendment does not apply to them given that there is agreed amount of 60% in the Development agreement. However, the Government is now saying that the Development Agreement does not contain such terms. There was a lot of rumours about a gentleman’s handshake agreement from the inception of Beaches. Could it be that it was indeed a gentleman’s handshake agreement and that is why they were not paying the 100% of the taxes collected?

In any event, the Government has decided to abandon the claim so Beaches do not have to pay the disputed tax remittance. The amount was not written off because the amounts in dispute were never recorded on the financial statements of the Government. However, at the end of the day, the output is the same in that Beaches do not have to pay.

Encouragement Development (Amendment Bill) 2020

This bill seeks to exempt an all-inclusive resort for 25 years from any new tax or modified tax. This means if any changes take place in our tax system, this will not apply to all-inclusive resorts. The two conditions are as follows:

  1. The resort maintains a threshold of 9, 500,000 in tax remittances in annual basis
  2. The resort offers 650 or more rooms per single premises.

Based on this new bill, the only resort that this applies to is Beaches Resort.

Conclusion

I understand the need to ensure that an amicable solution was needed to deal with the Beaches Resort fiasco. However, what I don’t understand is that the “small man’ continues to suffer and has to pay the full taxes. What kind of gifts can we give to the small man? Why don’t we abandon some of their taxes and why don’t we encourage the expansion of small businesses?

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