By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
MINISTER of Tourism, Obie Wilchombe, is targeting an additional 200,000 visitors per year to Bimini, telling Tribune Business that the island's greatest difficulty in developing its tourism product has been limited airlift.
Speaking with Tribune Business following the announcement of a 50/50 joint venture partnership agreement between premier gaming company, Genting Malaysia Berhad, and RAV Bahamas for the development of a boutique casino at the Bimini Bay Resort, Mr Wilchombe said his ministry was in discussions with at least three carriers, including Bahamasair, which currently does not serve Bimini.
Mr Wilchombe said: "We want to make sure we have sustainability. Bimini's greatest difficulty has always been that it has had business during the summer and spring months, and then everything shuts down due to limited airlift. What we want to do is ensure that there is a balance, and that we are having good business year round."
To facilitate the additional airlift, Mr Wilchombe said an extension to the island's airport runway will be necessary, and could be undertaken within a year to a year-and-a-half.
He added: "One of the things I have put in the ministry now is we know what we are targeting for each island per year. While Nassau can take 3-5 million people, Bimini can't.
"We are going to put a tag there, so you're likely to see we are going to cause another 200,000 visitors per year, as opposed to what exists now. Those are the kinds of things we are doing that will all relate to the airlift we want."
Mr Wilchombe added that the Balaeria Bahamas Express ferry was soon to commence service to Bimini from Miami.
"The ferry boat will begin servicing Bimini from Florida. They are completing the dredging of the harbour and that service should begin soon. The dredging started around February or March, but its near completion now," Mr Wilchcombe said.