By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A well-known architect is “worried” about the $2.6 billion Baha Mar project’s prospects for success, arguing that its casino was not an “attraction base”.
Expanding on his argument that the Bahamas has failed to define its tourism product, and develop sufficiently unique attractions to prise open visitor wallets, Pat Rahming told Tribune Business that “no single casino” had the ability to act as an ‘attraction’.
Baha Mar’s Cable Beach redevelopment has at its core a casino-centric model, with the developers frequently touting it as the largest facility of its kind in the Caribbean region.
Yet Mr Rahming told this newspaper: ‘I’m worried about Baha Mar. I don’t see the attraction base, but that’s a personal thing.
“They think the attraction base is a 100,000 square foot casino. My observation is that there is no single casino anywhere that is an attraction today.”
Comparing Baha Mar, and the Bahamas, to major gaming destinations such as Las Vegas and Macau, Mr Rahming said these locations were ‘ place attractions’ due to the critical mass generated by multiple casino operators - not just one.
“It amazed me that when I went to Macau and looked at 21 casinos, where can a single casino turn into an attraction,” he added.
Calling on the Bahamas to stop altering its tourism ‘brand’ every few years, Mr Rahming used an analogy to explain why - in his eyes - so many hotels in this nation ended up failing.
“If you have a creek for the bonefish, you have a place to fish. Put some rooms there, and you have a fishing resort,” he explained.
“If you have some mountains, you have a place to go skiing. Put some rooms there, and you have a ski resort. If you’ve got a beach, a beautiful white sandy beach, you have a place to go swimming. Put some rooms there, and you have a beach resort.
“The reason most resorts in the Bahamas fail is they never find out what the attraction is that their decision to have a resort is based on.”
And Mr Rahming added: “There is no such thing as sports tourism, there is no such thing as medical tourism, there is no such things as religious tourism. There is only tourism.
“Sports is the attraction, medical is the attraction, and if we understand that we have a chance to develop some vitality in this business.”
Pointing to an example of a ‘sports attraction’ that resonated locally, the well-known architect pointed to the Miami Heat’s home NBA play-off games, suggesting that these likely had a contingent of several hundred Bahamians in the crowd.
Not only did they buy return air tickets to Miami, and tickets for the game, but spent on hotels, rental cars, shopping at Sawgrass Mills, dinners at restaurants and Heat memorabilia, Mr Rahming said.
Warning that the Bahamas could not “change its brand overnight”, Mr Rahming said the marketing message needed to stay true to this nation’s roots and heritage.
“It takes 10-15 years to create a brand,” the architect said. “This idea of rebranding the destination every year never worked, and I don’t understand why we keep attempting to do it.
“We have a warehouse full of product, but the door is closed and there is a padlock on it and we’re sitting outside with a cap on our hand begging.
“Sidney Poitier is a gold mine. In any city community there would be statues and museums of him. We bring him to town to name a bridge after him; it’s pure insanity.”
And, despite tourism being the Bahamas’ largest industry, generating two-thirds of the nation’s employment, Mr Rahming said there was “not a single item in the Budget about growing our business”.
“It has to do with not knowing what the Budget is for, and that may be because most of the people involved in the process have never run a business,” he added.
“We are not using the Budget as a way of turning our resources to grow our primary business. We’re just assuming that because it’s been that way, it will always be that way.
“And if we get more cruise as far as numbers are concerned, everything will be OK as the recession is over, but it’s not over.”