It would be an act of “sheer cruelty and neglect” toward the people of Grand Bahama for the government “to idly stand by and let the Grand Lucayan, a prime hotel property, go the way of the Royal Oasis,” Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar told Parliament.
Addressing the House of Assembly Thursday, D’Aguilar said news of the government’s proposal to purchase the Grand Lucayan has sparked vibrant public debate. He said while many of the questions and arguments raised against the purchase of this property would have some merit under normal circumstances, “when a particular situation in a country is so critical, the government must intervene in the national interest.”
“As a veteran businessman, my personal belief is that governments should leave all businesses such as hotels, to be run by the private sector. However, there comes a time when a particular situation in a country is so critical that the government must intervene in the national interest.
“The Grand Lucayan Hotel is a case in point. This is not just about a hotel and its employees, nor is it just about an island. This is about the prosperity of an entire nation. It would be an act of sheer cruelty and neglect towards the people of Grand Bahama for the government to idly stand by and let the Grand Lucayan, a prime hotel property, go the way of the Royal Oasis.”
D’Aguilar’s comments came while Seconding the Motion for a $35 million loan from Hutchison Whampoa for the purchase of the Grand Lucayan Resort. He said the government’s intention is not to hold on to the Grand Lucayan for any extended period of time but to purchase it and “ready it for onward sale to the most attractive investor.”
He said in pursuing the purchase of the 1200-room hotel property, the government seeks to secure the foundation of Grand Bahama’s tourism sector and bring about a critical turn around in the direction of Grand Bahama’s economy.
“If the government did not act, the closure of the hotel was a certainty,” he said.
“The Grand Lucayan is too important to Freeport and ultimately The Bahamas. It is too important and too big to fail. Failure to purchase this hotel would concretize significant losses to the Public Treasury, a loss of annual departure tax, value-added tax (VAT), customs duty, all in the millions of dollars if the Grand Lucayan is closed.”
D’Aguilar said if the resort is opened and becomes operational at effective levels, it will secure the employment of approximately 1200 persons – the wages from which would amount to approximately $20-$25 million, not including indirect and induced employment. He said construction could produce a potential 500 jobs with annual wages of approximately $15 million.
“All of this represents a significant injection into the economy of Grand Bahama,” he said.
D’Aguilar said the hotel’s closure would have a devastating effect.
“Specifically, it would have a severe effect on the Port Lucaya Marketplace and Marina where over 50 businesses are in operation; it would have a severe impact on the three daily Ferry Services from Florida, namely the Balearia, the Grand Celebration and the Grand Classica. We would eventually lose them. And it would have a severe impact on straw vendors and taxi drivers and all other ancillary businesses and suppliers that need this hotel to be open in order for them to survive.”
D’Aguilar said the closure of the Royal Oasis in 2004 has had a negative impact on Grand Bahama and its economy. He said the International Bazaar, which adjoins the hotel, is now a ghost town, full of derelict and abandoned buildings.
“Its state of near total disrepair is proving that once you make the fatal mistake of allowing a hotel to close, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get it re-opened.
“We have learned the lessons from previous governments – what damage inaction can cause. Inaction and closure is simply not an option for the Grand Lucayan, if the intention is to bring it back to life and to create the greatest economic impact.”
D’Aguilar said the government will act decisively in the best interests of the people of Grand Bahama and the people of The Bahamas.
“The numbers reveal a tourism sector that has received some traumatic body blows and we were elected on overwhelming numbers to do what is necessary to reverse that trend,” he said.
“The purchase of the Grand Lucayan and its eventual re-development could be the catalyst to Grand Bahama’s rebirth – a chance to improve the mood and confidence levels and provide a new destination unique from other islands and really allow for the proper re-branding of Grand Bahama.
“Behind any major decision, there must be a vision. What is the vision for Grand Bahama? Like the proverbial Phoenix that rises from the ashes, we envision the gradual and sure recovery of the island of Grand Bahama,” he added.
This article was written by MATT MAURA, Bahamas Information Services.