Avia Collinder, Business Writer
Stafford Burrowes, chairman and CEO of Dolphin Cove Limited, says he welcomes the public debate on his efforts to open a dolphinarium in Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), saying resistance to his type of business was not new, having faced down opposition at start-up in Jamaica and Cayman Islands.
Dolphin Cove, which is investing US$3 million to set up its first dolphin attraction in Providenciales, is drawing fire from the Providenciales Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber president Tina Fenimore issued a release late last week stating that the planned dolphinarium was not in line with TCI's upmarket resort product.
Asked for comment, Fenimore provided Wednesday Business with her statement to the press.
"TCI commerce is presently critically dependent on tourism and property ownership. Given the high cost of air travel to and from TCI and the high cost of doing business here, combined with physically limited capacity of the island to absorb visitors and commercial activity, the chamber of commerce firmly believes that the future property of the TCI must lie in high value added activity. As the chief executive of Dolphin Cove pointed out in his press release, performing dolphins appeal to low end mass tourism markets and by definition is appropriate for the sector," it read.
Dolphin Cove has already received a business licence to operate in TCI, but still needs final approval on the facility.
TCI has just gone through a change of government.
"The new government will be reviewing our application and we are looking forward to their blessing," he said, later congratulating Dr Rufus Ewing and his team for winning the election.
"We do not have a green light as yet, and we look forward to the newly elected officials review of our facility."
Burrowes said the TCI facility was still at the planning stage, and that designs were being done for submission for approval.
He noted that much of the opposition to his project is coming from interests who fear competition.
"It is receiving the same sort of rhetoric we got in Jamaica and Cayman ... . Those who believe we will take upmarket share are opposing, but taxi operators, craft vendors and big resorts see it as a plus because it will improve the tourism product," Burrowes said.
"It's an animal-rights issue. (But) most people all over the world have recognised that the animals are very happy. There are facilities all over the world. Florida has all of eight."
Dolphin Cove debuted 12 years ago with a marine park location in Ocho Rios, later expanding to Montego Bay and Point in Hanover. It also has two facilities in Cayman, both at West Bay.
The Turks and Caicos facility's projected opening date is spring 2013.
The Providenciales Chamber has been critical of legal concessions already made by TCI to facilitate holding animals in captivity, and is now urging the local Planning Board to reject the plan.
"The chamber urges the Planning Board to reject the application at the first opportunity and regrets very much the Governor's action in changing the law at short notice in order to legalise holding captive marine mammals, whether for entertainment or any other purpose," said Fenimore's statement.
"TCI has invested heavily in a justified high-end brand, including upmarket water sports and marine activities - this brand can be broken and sullied very easily with potential consequences to our members. If the Planning Board permits this activity to proceed, the price in terms of lost profit and employment and the added cost of damage to our environment's 'beautiful by nature' image will far exceed any comparatively small benefit arising to the exchequer from the proposed project."
Burrowes said he is undeterred by the opposition.
"It took us two years to get approval in Jamaica. It makes entry to business difficult but it's good for us in terms of competition. It also causes a certain standard to be adhered to. If the standards were low we would get nailed for not showing enough care for dumb animals," he said.
The TCI facility is slated for Providenciales. Dolphin Cove is considering a second marine park in Grand Turk, Burrowes said.