D’Aguilar: Right development plan for Grand Lucayan could be catalyst for Grand Bahama rebirth

Tourism and Aviation Minister Dionisio D'Aguilar. (Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Tourism)

The redevelopment of the Grand Lucayan property has the capability to change the direction of visitor arrivals into Grand Bahama “with the right development plan,” Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar said in the House of Assembly, Thursday.

“Simply put, the redevelopment of the Grand Lucayan will bring additional airlift; additional airlift will improve the economy, which will bring relief to Grand Bahama,” D’Aguilar said.

The Tourism and Aviation minister 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 turnaround in the direction of Grand Bahama’s economy.

The purchase of the property and its eventual redevelopment, he continued, could be the catalyst for Grand Bahama’s rebirth while allowing for the proper re-branding of Grand Bahama as a destination that is unique from other islands.

“We must take control of our future and our destiny,” he said. “The purchase of this property is also an opportunity for more Bahamian participation and Bahamian ownership in our critical hotel industry.”

D’Aguilar said a “well laid out plan” effectively executed, will leverage Grand Bahama’s proximity to The Bahamas’ major tourist market of North America – specifically the United States of America and Canada – where almost 90 per cent of foreign visitor arrivals originate.

The Tourism and Aviation minister laid out part of that plan.

He said Grand Bahama’s awe-inspiring, natural assets – outback forests, mangroves, extensive cave systems, miles of secluded beaches and surrounding seas teeming with trophy fish and an underwater wonderland – will “easily allow us to entrench the island as an eco-tourism paradise and haven for fishing, diving and birding.

“We are positioning Grand Bahama as a multi-destination vacation paradise catering to all tastes: cosmopolitan beach vacation experience in Freeport/Lucaya, with two dynamic centres of interest offering cultural and ecotourism in a laid-back Out Island ambience in West End and East End.

“On the drawing board are plans to make Grand Bahama a “mecca for world-class sporting events” from road races to cycling, kayaking, sailing, golf, tennis and sports retreats. Grand Bahama is already known for its signature cultural events that attract an international following. The Ministry of Tourism will continue to work with stakeholders to enhance these events to make them even more attractive for export.”

D’Aguilar noted the year, 2015, provided a glimpse of the potential for Grand Bahama. He said it was also proof that, with the right development plan, the Grand Lucayan “can be a success and change the direction of visitor arrivals.”

Overall visitor arrivals (both air and sea) at that time, reached a high of 964,308. Hurricane Matthew hit the island in 2016, leaving destruction in its wake and led to the closure of what D’Aguilar called “prime Grand Bahama hotel properties such as Memories, Breakers Club and the Grand Lucayan.”

By 2017, those numbers had decreased to 614,570 – a decline of almost 350,000 visitors “or a staggering 36.3 per cent decline.”

“If one was to look at just air arrivals, in 2015, the island of Grand Bahama enjoyed air arrivals of almost 160,000. By 2017, that number had dropped precipitously to just 70,692, a decline of more than half, or for those of us mathematically inclined, a drop of a whopping 126 per cent – in just two short years,” he said.

“I think we can all agree that this significant decline can be, without a shadow of a doubt, attributed to the partial closure of the signature tourism product on the island and the drastic decrease in hotel rooms.

“With those numbers, if there ever was a call to arms; a need to act and not sit back as some are suggesting, the time is now. We cannot remain on the sideline. Today, the government is taking concrete steps to address this problem. Today, the government steps in and brings relief.”

D’Aguilar said in 2002, Grand Bahama was “holding its own and the tourism economy was doing well” with the island boasting an inventory of 4,000 rooms.

The International Bazaar, he said, was a “dynamic shopping destination,” and the island counted world-renowned brands such as the Princess, Radisson, Holiday Inn, Best Western, the Sheraton and the Westin among its popular brands.

Grand Bahama, D’Aguilar continued, also boasted “an exciting annual calendar” featuring the Greta Weise 5K, the Superstars Celebrity Challenge, the Power Boat Race, air shows, scores of fishing tournaments and two PGA (Professional Golfers Association) Golf Courses.

“Unfortunately, Grand Bahama was hit by a series of hurricanes and then by the great recession.”

D’Aguilar said the island has gone from an inventory of 4,000 hotel rooms in 2002, to an inventory of just 1,678 rooms in 2018. (Memories [478 rooms], Breakers Cay [542 rooms] and Lighthouse Point [198] accounted for a combined 1,218 rooms when in operation).

“We are talking about a 58 per cent decline in the physical inventory of hotel rooms on Grand Bahama. We need significantly more hotel rooms on the island. Grand Bahama needs this government’s intervention and we will not fail Grand Bahama.”

D’Aguilar said the Ministry of Tourism will continue to partner with successful business brands to give heightened exposure to Grand Bahama and will provide complete marketing support for the Grand Lucayan to create a high level of visibility for the resort in major markets.

He said the Ministry already provides substantial marketing support to Grand Bahama by creating exposure for the destination across all media in its major markets – the USA, Canada, Latin America and the United Kingdom – through traditional television, radio print and digital media.

“The Ministry of Tourism’s overall marketing strategy has been hugely successful in creating increased destination desire in the international marketplace,” he said.

“People want to come to The Bahamas. They are coming in increasing numbers to the tune of a 15 per cent increase in air arrivals within the first six months of 2018. Airlift to our destination is expanding. All of this positive tourist activity will most certainly impact Grand Bahama.”

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This article was written by MATT MAURA, Bahamas Information Services.