Story and photos by Gemma Handy
Once one of the liveliest resorts in the country, with a crucial role providing rooms for budget travellers, today the Jolly Beach Resort looks almost apocalyptic in its desolation.
The famed west coast beach it fringes – long a jewel in the nation’s tourism crown – is currently an expanse of unkempt vegetation where immaculate white sands used to be.
Photos taken by Observer on Sunday lay bare the extent of the 464-room complex’s dilapidation in the two-plus years it has been closed.
Toppled tiki huts, crumbling infrastructure and peeling paint are omnipresent – and that’s just on the outside.
Yesterday, government reconfirmed plans to reopen the resort. This time, a 60-day timeframe was presented to Parliament, one which critics might suggest is ambitious at best.
Hopes had been high that the resort would be returned to its former glory when news was announced in May that eminent hotelier Rob Barrett was set to invest millions into it and take over its management.
Those were dashed last week when Cabinet revealed Barrett, whose Elite Island Resorts chain includes the Verandah and St James Club, had “declined any further participation”.
Whether that’s for good remains unclear. When questioned by Barbuda’s MP Trevor Walker, Prime Minister Gaston Browne told Parliament that Barrett had said he was “not prepared to move forward until such time as the government acquires the property”.
Plans by government to officially do just that in order to sell it were stalled earlier this year when it was revealed an unnamed creditor had a EC$15 million charge on the property. Government itself is owed a staggering EC$80 million, largely in unpaid statutory contributions.
The PM continued that the charge, apparently to cover an inter-company debt, was due to come before the court for resolution in September.
“We have been advised by the attorneys for the owners that it’s an encumbrance that could be easily lifted, but we will have to get the permission of the court,” Browne explained.
“However, based on the urgency to reopen this property, the government has now decided to make a few million dollars available to renovate it,” he continued.
“We have invited international hotel operator, Apple Vacations, to assist us in reopening the property within the next 60 days … in anticipation of a formal acquisition of the property later in the year.”
There was some good news for the resort’s 500 ex-workers who are said to be collectively owed more than EC$7 million plus interest in outstanding pay and severance.
Government is poised to put up around EC$3 million to partially settle that debt, the PM added.
The Workers Union which represents former staff previously told Observer that when the hotel closed in March 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, employees were owed millions of dollars in retroactive payments, vacation pay, severance, unpaid wages and retirement fund contributions that were deducted from salaries and withheld from the bank.
Yesterday, the union’s Deputy General Secretary Chester Hughes lamented the fact that the announcement of a forthcoming pay-out had been aired in public instead of directly with ex-staff and their representatives.
“We have been appealing to the government to speak with workers and their representatives. Why should we have to hear this in Parliament?” he said.
Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez told Observer yesterday that Apple Vacations bosses were currently on island and discussions were underway regarding reopening the resort, following a refurbishment paid for by government. He added that a memorandum of understanding had been signed with the company.
Founded in 2001, Apple Vacations is billed as North America’s fastest growing leisure resort company with properties across the Caribbean, Central America and Europe.