By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Grand Lucayan was yesterday urged to refocus its marketing strategy and leave Bahamian business for the smaller properties on Grand Bahama, a Freeport hotelier telling Tribune Business it seemed as though the resort was not going after the international market “in any real way”.
Andrew Barnett, vice-president and general manager at Castaways Resort and Suites, while hailing the recent announcement of a 500-room, five-star resort opening at the Reef Village property as a “great move” for the overall Grand Bahama economy, said he hoped it would enable it to focus more on the international market.
“It’s an absolute great move for Grand Bahama because we have been so traumatised with the economy that I think it even affects the mood of the people here,” Mr Barnett said.
“I think the company that’s taking over is very reputable. I think the benefits will be far-reaching. As far as the Grand Lucayan property is concerned, I think they need to take on the role they were supposed to take on as an anchor property, and not be selfish in how they do business.
“I think they need to be better corporate citizens, and also be part of the Tourism Board, sit with the other movers and shakers in the industry and see how we move this whole island forward. Unless and until that happens we are still going to have some hiccups in Freeport.”
Mr Barnett added: “Most people would look at the Grand Lucayan and say with a big hotel like that, small guys like us are in a different market and we don’t have to worry. It should be that way but it’s not that way.
“Hopefully, with this new announcement they can get to the point where they start to market in North America and Europe, and places like that, and leave the rest for the smaller properties.
“Then, as the tide come up, we will all rise with it. They have to change their strategy because it seems as if they are going after the domestic business and not going after the international business in any real way.”
Mr Barnett further said.: “They have reduced their rates so low, in fact, that when the Balaeria and Discovery come here their rates were lower than mine, so they were literally taking all the business.
“They made their rates so attractive, and they are being subsidised by the Government, so they are able to shore up their shortfall, which is wrong. If you are going to take your own money to do that, it’s fine, but when you take the Treasury money to do that I have a problem with that. I think that is one of the reasons most of the properties here closed, and believe me, I’m struggling to keep my doors open.
“A number of the smaller hotels closed because the Grand Lucayan took the position that it wanted to take the domestic business too. You have a half a billion dollar property on the beach. They should never have to compete with Castaways, or the old Freeport Inn and Port Lucaya resort; they’re the small fish in this pond.”
Assessing the performance of his resort, Mr Barnett said: “Right now our occupancies our low and we’re looking to some business that is supposed to be coming on the island with regard to the Grand Bahama Shipyard. They’re the people that really keep us going in terms of when they have major ships in here for repairs and renovations.”
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Perry Christie revealed that Letters of Intent and a Memoranda of Understanding regarding a partnership arrangement were signed between the Government, Hutchison Whampoa and the Canadian-based Sunwing Travel Group.
Under this arrangement, he said some 1,000 new permanent jobs and hundreds of construction jobs will be created in Grand Bahama.
According to Mr Christie, Hutchison will renovate and reopen the 503-room Reef Village, which will be leased and operated as a five-star property.
As part of the arrangement, Sunwing, through its affiliate, Vacation Express USA Corporation, will work with the Ministry of Tourism and the Grand Bahama Island Promotion Board as well as participating hotels to restructure, support and turn the current under performing contracted summer airlift programme from multiple US cities to Freeport into a success.