PM Christie Heralds ‘Good News’ for Bahamas Tourism

Salutations…

Ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for inviting me to break bread with you at your Annual Christmas Luncheon. There is no question that Stuart Bowe, in his capacity as senior vice president and general manager of the Atlantis Resort Coral and Beach Towers; and the longest serving President of the Bahamas Hotel & Tourism Association; and this year’s winner of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s Hotelier of the Year Award, is a man of great stature in an industry that is increasingly competitive, fraught with complexity and constantly evolving.

We have witnessed many excellent Bahamian hoteliers come and go but few have left the kind of indelible mark on the industry that Stuart has done, as a great pillar of the industry both locally and regionally. As you would have heard from his family, Stuart is no stranger to trailblazing; he was one of the lucky ones, having received tremendous support and encouragement from his family at an early age and having been the beneficiary of mentoring by successful business persons as he navigated his way through various supervisory and managerial positions early on in his career.

That type of mentorship easily takes root when showered on an individual with strength of character and possessing the determination and intelligence to rise to the top of his profession. His was not a meteoric rise, but the hard work and application of knowledge and skills to new challenges and opportunities over time, amplified by a willingness to take risks, to engage in continuous learning and to exercise both patience and persistence in the pursuit of his goals.

Stuart learned quickly the secrets of lasting success, evading the seduction of quick-wins, and short-cuts and opting instead for hard work, genuine aspiration and skills development. It has instilled in him a quiet purpose and passion for his chosen profession. He also perfected the art of giving back through daily interaction with his team here at Atlantis and through his six year-long appointment as president of the BHTA, and in so doing unwittingly distinguished himself as one of that elite group of individuals who are called nation builders. Stuart is still a young man, and with both, the kind of clarity of purpose that he possesses, and commitment to training and education, has the potential to climb to even greater heights and to mentor and mould an entirely new generation of tourism industry leaders.

That type of leadership is becoming increasingly rare in the Tourism Industry.

Ladies and gentlemen, I now ask that you raise your glasses with me in a toast to Stuart, who has achieved much and has given back even more to our industry and our country.

Thank you Stuart.

As we close out the year 2016 and we look back on its challenges, we realize that the faith and fortitude of the Bahamian people has certainly been tested in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. We have been fortunate that no lives were lost and that, with the exception of the devastation experienced by hotel properties and affiliated businesses in Grand Bahama, North Andros and Chub Cay, most of our tourism product today remains intact.

I am pleased to say that we have been and are continuing to work closely with NEMA, the Ministry of Grand Bahama and the Island’s stakeholders on recovery and expansion efforts to revive the tourism economy of the nation’s second city, Freeport, along with residential and business activity in the settlements of Eight Mile Rock and West End, Grand Bahama. We believe the provisions of the recently enacted Grand Bahama (Port Area) Investment Incentives (Amendment) Act 2016, the establishment of a One-Stop-Shop to facilitate swift project approvals, the creation of a more professional and dynamic Investment Promotion Unit to source international business opportunities, and with further investment in the tourism sector, Grand Bahama will be better positioned for economic revitalization.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would not be standing here if I did not believe in my heart that the opportunities for our country far outweigh the challenges we have encountered and continue to experience both here at home and on the global front; and one example of this is the recent chartering of the University of The Bahamas, which is a signal achievement for our country. Our people will now have the opportunity to receive the kind of credentials that provide access to higher paying jobs in tourism and other industries right at home; and our educators too will have an opportunity to design programs and degrees that are uniquely tailored to our needs in nation building and to develop the intellectual capital required to propel this country forward.

Ladies and gentlemen I say to you that while the opportunities may be considerable, there is still much work to do in order to successfully reap the benefits, and in 2017 and beyond, it will require the unprecedented cooperation and resolve on the part of all stakeholders. As an example of what I am talking about, the National Development Plan contemplates the restructuring of the investment and promotion agencies that undergird our tourism efforts, implementation of new policies to reduce leakages and stimulate entrepreneurship, overhaul of tourism legislation to facilitate new products and services, higher standards of customer service and better use of technology to increase competitiveness. We have been talking about these matters for some time now, but actionable steps must now be taken by the collective to achieve our strategic goals. We are up to the task and I look forward to discussions with an exciting slate of industry stakeholders, some old and some new, on a strategic plan that will take this industry to the next level.

The leading good news for Bahamas Tourism is that Eximbank has provided additional funding to complete the Baha Mar Project and construction work is well underway. You will, no doubt, have heard by now the announcement regarding the acquisition of the Baha Mar properties by Chow Tai Fook Limited (CTF), a world-class hotel, real-estate developer and business conglomerate. They are arranging for operation by the Grand Hyatt of the Casino and Convention hotels and of the other properties by SLS and Rosewood, all internationally renowned brands, beginning with a phased opening in the second quarter of 2017.

These operations will almost immediately begin to have a positive economic impact. My Government has been working to ensure that there will be continuous employment opportunities in the tourism sector for our young people over the ensuing years, starting with the imminent hiring of 1500 employees at Baha Mar early in the New Year. This is to facilitate the phased opening of 1800 rooms at the conference and casino hotel, the casino, convention centre and golf course, and employment of up to 3,300 by August 2017 and 4,300 by December 2017, when all components have been completed and opened.

CTF is planning to invest an additional $200 million in pre-opening festivities, the development of family amenities, entertainment and offshore island facilities and demolition and redevelopment of the former Crystal Palace Hotel. With these additional investments completed, the project will have created 5,700 new direct jobs and an additional 4,160 indirect and induced jobs.

The general contractor currently has over 500 workers on site with oversight of standards and the construction timetable for completion. This will ensure on-time completion of those properties that are slated to open in April 2017 and by December 2017.

My Government was also able to secure an arrangement with the China Export Import Bank where the Bank made payments to unsecured creditors of Baha Mar, ex gratia, including terminated Baha Mar employees and subcontractors. The Bank also paid amounts owing by Baha Mar to the general contractor who, in turn, is compensating and re-hiring its sub-contractors.

The completion and opening of the Baha Mar mega resort will be complemented by the opening of the 250-room, all-inclusive Warwick Hotel on Paradise Island and the phased construction at The Pointe of a 100-unit condominium complex slated for completion September 2018 and a branded, 150-room hotel which will open November 2018.

The 900-space Garage at The Pointe is also undergoing a phased opening with current access given to Annual Pass holders and tenants and public access to the Garage following shortly thereafter.

These are all developments which are expected to have immediate and significant impact on commercial activity, employment and government revenues in New Providence and indirect impacts on the rest of the country.

Ladies and gentlemen, the opening of the five-star Hilton Hotel at Resorts World’s resort in Bimini is a wonderful addition to that Island’s tourism product. Direct employment has peaked at over 700. Plans are being finalized for further upgrades to the Bimini airport, increased airlift and cruise service as well as more facilities and amenities.

As we move through our chain of Islands, a combination of new resort facilities and upgrades including the Berry Islands, New Providence, Paradise Island, Eleuthera and the Exumas bode well for the coming year and beyond.

Although competition in the region and abroad will also stiffen, The Bahamas must resolve to be the world-class leader in service and productivity, making the kind of innovations which will compel investors and visitors alike to make The Bahamas their destination of choice.

Ladies and gentlemen, as the Christmas season approaches and we enter a brand new year, I extend very best wishes to all of you for good health and prosperity.

Thank you.

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