D’Aguilar: Grand Bahama needs Kerzner-type investor for tourism transformation

D’Aguilar: Grand Bahama needs Kerzner-type investor for tourism transformation

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Freeport needs to attract investors like the late Sol Kerzner, capable of injecting at least $3 billion into the island to transform it into a thriving destination, according to a former tourism minister and a prominent businessman.

Dionisio D’Aguilar told Eyewitness News: “I believe every government has struggled to significantly boost tourist arrivals to Grand Bahama. It’s a challenge.

“The issue the government faces is that Grand Bahama lacks the necessary scale in its tourism offerings. Truth be told, the number of hotel rooms in Grand Bahama is probably less than 1,000. The lack of scale makes it difficult to make a project as large as the Grand Lucayan viable. Airlift is crucial, and scaling it up only complicates the feasibility of a project like that. We faced challenges, this government is facing challenges, it is a challenge.”

He emphasized: “I’ve mentioned before, that Grand Bahama needs someone like the lat Sol Kerzner to develop it into a destination. We need someone to invest $3 billion to make it work and establish it as a destination. Atlantis was a destination, drawing people in and leading to the construction of hotels around it.

“If you’re going in there and have to borrow money, it’s going to be difficult to make it work, and that’s what we’re seeing. When investors run the numbers, they get scared. Ultimately, we didn’t feel it was right to abandon the property.”

Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis recently expressed optimism that the government will finalize the sale of the Grand Lucayan resort on Grand Bahama by the end of the year.

In November 2022, the government announced its deal to sell the Freeport property to Electra American Hospital Ltd. for $100 million had fallen through. The Minnis administration had purchased Grand Lucayan from Hutchison Whampoa for $65 million in August 2018 and signed a sales agreement with Bahamas Ports Investments Ltd. (BPI), a joint partnership between Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) and the ITM Group, in March 2020.

However, shortly after assuming office in September 2021, the Davis administration canceled the sale agreement, with Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper deeming the deal unfavorable.

In May 2022, Cooper revealed that the government had agreed to sell Grand Lucayan to Electra America Hospitality Group for $100 million, with Electra pledging a $300 million development of the property. However, six months later, this deal also fell through.

As of now, little information has been disclosed about the property, while the government continues to bear the financial burden of the resort. Cooper previously disclosed that it costs the government between $1.2 million and $1.5 million monthly to maintain the property. The government allocated $17 million to subsidize the expenses of the resort in the 2023/2024 fiscal year and spent $19.4 million on the property in the 2022/2023 fiscal year.