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Caribbean Firm To Take Over Top Tour Destination

By NEIL HARTNELL Tribune Business Editor A LEADING New Providence tourist attraction is set to be transformed into a "first class destination" via an investment worth "millions" of dollars, Tribune Business can reveal, with its Bahamian owners set to sell a controlling equity stake to a Caribbean-based tour/excursion provider. The operators of the offshore Blackbeard's Cay destination, based on the leased island just off Cable Beach opposite the Sandals Royal Bahamian resort, are close to completing the sale of a majority ownership interest to Samir Andrawos, operator of St Maarten Sightseeing Tours on the southern Caribbean island of the same name, sources close to the situation have confirmed. Once formally concluded, the plan is to upgrade Blackbeard's Cay's product offering to attract increased numbers of not only cruise passengers, but land-based tourists and residents, too. Tribune Business understands that Mr Andrawos has particularly strong links to Carnival, the world's largest cruise line, and sources suggested that this would provide the largest source of Blackbeard's Cay's customers. The deal is understood to be waiting final approvals from the Government, via the Investments Board/National Economic Council (NEC), given that the tour operator/excursion provider business is supposed to be reserved for 100 per cent Bahamian ownership. However, Tribune Business can confirm that site clearance and some infrastructure work has already begun on Blackbeard's Cay in preparation for the deal's conclusion. Cedric Saunders, chairman of the company that operates Blackbeard's Cay, declined to comment when contacted by Tribune Business about the Samir Andrawos deal yesterday. "Unfortunately, I can't comment on that at this time," he replied. However, Tribune Business understands that the deal between Blackbeard's Cay and Mr Andrawos will lead to a major product upgrade, with "millions" ultimately invested. "Things are progressing, and from what I gather, at the end of the day it's going to be a first class destination," one source told Tribune Business of the plans for Blackbeard's Cay. This newspaper also understands that Blackbeard's Cay's existing management team have already been released and received their severance pay. This is a normal corporate move when companies change ownership, and the original holding/ownership firm closes down and ceases operation. Tribune Business understands there is a good possibility that many of Blackbeard's Cay's staff may be re-hired by the new majority owners from St Maarten, who will also have management control. Fred Lunn, Blackbeard's Cay's former general manager, confirmed when he was contacted by Tribune Business yesterday that he was no longer with the company. He declined to comment further, directing this newspaper to Mr Saunders. Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, minister of tourism and aviation, confirmed he was aware of "conversations" concerning the Blackbeard's Cay deal, but was not involved in it directly. The Ministry of Tourism was usually involved, he added, after such deals were concluded.

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