The government has solidified the purchase of the Grand Lucaya Hotel and the deal with Oban Energies Oil and Storage Facility indicating their primary purpose of stimulating Grand Bahama’s economy.
Residents, although initially in support of the government’s decisions, are now expressing discontent and see the future as bleaker than promising.
Appearing on Beyond The Headlines with host Clint Watson, the Member of Parliament for West End, Grand Bahama and Bimini provided his analysis on what was once a booming tourism island, firstly stating that he is “very optimistic about the future of Grand Bahama (its economy).
“I’m from there,” Wilchcombe boasted and offered the understanding that the tourism industry had challenges succeeding because the private sector has mainly driven Grand Bahama’s economy. He also opined that the government needs to take more of an invested interest in Grand Bahama as tourism has been fighting to maintain its relevancy.
“The tourism sector does have potential. Freeport originally did not start out as tourism, it was because of industry…it was because of Deep Water Harbour….the cement company and then BORCO came on and then tourism had to kick in because the industry was not moving fast as quickly. In the early 70s tourism took over – it went up then it went down,” the former tourism minister confirmed.
According to Wilchcombe in the 90s during the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and Hutchinson and Whampoa were unable to agree on the same terms.
“When Hutchinson and Wampoa came in, all the hotels were built and a number of hotels were taken down. We (the Christie Administration) wanted to put a plan in place to try and regulate the tourism industry.
“It started off ok, but it didn’t work because Hutchinson Wampoa never wanted a brand. Hutchinson didn’t want it to be branded by anyone else’s name and they didn’t want a casino,” the former MP told host Clint Watson.
He added that to remedy their contractual agreement after winning the election in 2002 PLP officials including Wilchcombe were then sent to Canada by former Prime Minister Perry G. Christie to meet with the investor group, which ultimately cemented terms.
“…that’s when they got a brand (Hutchinson Wampoa) and we got a casino, but it still was up and down and not getting to the bottom of it because we never had ownership of it.
He also blamed the government for not taking Grand Bahama’s economy as pertinent and waiting a year after being elected in office a little over a year ago to express interest.
“I think the government made a fundamental mistake when they took over last year. After winning the election they should’ve started with the deal with Carnival,” he said.
“Carnival had plans to spend $300 million immediately in Grand Bahama allowing Bahamians to bring their private business to the port…this was to be the catalyst, a brand for Grand Bahama.”
He further suggested to BTH host that instead of the government using taxpayers money to purchase dilapidated Grand Lucaya Hotel perhaps they should’ve consulted a group of Bahamian entrepreneurs.