Milk River malady

The Government still has no takers for Milk River Mineral Bath Hotel and Spa in south-west Clarendon, as efforts to divest the property have been hampered by bad roads and other adverse conditions in the area.

The property’s executive management noted in its 2019/20 annual report that “in spite of the Ministry of Tourism’s effort to divest or promote a private-public partnership; over the divestment period a number of debilitating factors affected the operations of the Milk River Bath and the Milk River community’s ability to prosper. These included bad road conditions, overgrown vegetation, and flooding”.

The report was tabled in the House of Representatives this week.

Furthermore, the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) again did not recommend a hotel licence for the property due to outstanding issues of security fencing and closed-circuit television cameras.

An enterprise team was reappointed in June 2019 to pursue pre-divestment activities with a view to improving the facilities and make them more attractive to investors.

At the start of the 2020/21 legislative year, the Government promised that the Milk River Bath Act, along with the Bath of St Thomas the Apostle Act would have been amended, in consideration of public-private partnerships.

In a report to the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee in January this year, the Ministry of Tourism noted that the property had experienced significant declines in occupancy levels and revenue of 97 per cent and 81 per cent, respectively, between March and December 2020, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Notwithstanding the issues, overall revenues for the property increased by 11.6 per cent during the review period, over the previous fiscal year, with total income from operations at $33,268,382, up from $29,799,352.

Income for bath services reached $12,163,303 at the end of the 2019/20 financial year, an increase of two per cent over 2018/19. At the same time, income generated by its 13 hotel rooms was $7,563,985 up to March 2020, reflecting a 22.4 per cent increase over the previous year, the report noted. The property’s restaurant generated $7,788,765 or a 16.6 per cent increase compared to $6,680,856 the previous year.

The spa saw the most significant increase of all with a 41 per cent jump to $1,653,514, management said, up from $1,171,000 during the previous fiscal period.

The property also managed to reduce recurrent expenditure by 12.2 per cent, tightening its budget to $24,539,882 from $28,031,447.

“Two employees retired and were paid terminal benefits; board fees were paid to several directors and the general manager was paid her contract-ending gratuity. These three items were responsible for the magnitude of the recurrent expenditure. None of these items were paid in the current year, resulting in a decrease in the recurrent expenditures,” management advised.

In 2020, portfolio Minister Daryl Vaz said the Government was still actively examining the feasibility and best approach to private-sector investment to improve operations at Milk River Hotel, as well as Bath Fountain Hotel and Spa in St Thomas.

Member of Parliament for Clarendon South Western Lothian Cousins, in his sectoral presentation this year, called for comprehensive improvements to the property in order to propel development of the greater Milk River area. He said this would improve the tourism product on the south coast and bump up business opportunities, while converting the Milk River area into a world-renowned modern spa town.

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