By NATARIO McKENZIE
BAHA MAR yesterday announced it had reached an agreement with the Spanish chain, Meli� Hotels International, to become the new brand/operating partner for its 694-room Cable Beach property, ending the current relationshi with Starwood Hotel & Resorts’ Sheraton.
The move was hailed by Obie Wilchcombe, minister of tourism, as “significantly enhancing the inventory” of the Bahamas, and potentially opening up Baha Mar - and this nation - more to European visitors.
Describing the new operator as “a Spanish based-brand but with a European appeal”, Mr Wilchcombe, who met with the new operators yesterday afternoon, told Tribune Business: “I think this is going to enhance the inventory of the Bahamas significantly in a way that we have never seen before.”
He added that beginning next year, several new and major hotel brands will be added to this destination.
“We already have Atlantis being one of the major brands” he added. “We will have Marriott, Meli�, Rosewood and Hyatt; all these major brands in the capital city. It’s going to help us in the marketing of our destination and, of course, Grand Bahama will have Sunwing.”
Meli�, one of Spain’s largest domestic resort operators, will take over operations at the Nassau Beach Resort on December 1. It signed an agreement with Baha Mar yesterday to operate the property.
Under the deal’s terms, Meli� will have to execute a renewal plan that will be completed by December 2014, without any interruption to the guest experience.
Upon completion of renovations, and simultaneously with the opening of Baha Mar, it will be renamed Meli� at Baha Mar. Highlights of the refurbishment will be new restaurant concepts, updated pools and an enhanced lobby area, all designed with guest comfort and experience in mind.
Gabriel Escarrer, chairman of Meli� Hotels International, said: “The addition of the new Meli� Nassau Beach, and the prospect of the future Meli� at Baha Mar being part, within a year, of one of the most ambitious hotel and leisure projects in recent decades, is a new source of pride for our brand, already present in 40 countries.
“Opening our first hotel in the English-speaking Caribbean, complementing our presence in the best vacation destinations around the world, is also a major achievement for Meli� Hotels International.”
“Meli� brings a wonderful, upscale name with global recognition and exceptional values to our brand portfolio at Baha Mar,” said Sarkis Izmirlian, Baha Mar’s chairman and chief executive.
“The company?s expertise in the European, Latin American and Russian markets will further support Baha Mar in attracting a worldwide clientele. In addition, Baha Mar will be proud to offer Meli�’s all-inclusive resort experience, which is a leader in one of the fastest-growing segments in vacation travel.”
The puts to bed weeks of speculation that Starwood Hotel & Resorts was looking to pull the Sheraton brand from the Cable Beach property. Starwood brought the Sheraton brand to the Cable Beach hotel in spring of 2007, after an $80 million renovation following Baha Mar’s acquisition of the former Radisson Cable Beach and Golf Resort, Wyndham and Nassau Beach hotels in March 2005.
Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, Sandals’ chairman, previously confirmed that the chain explored taking over operations at the Sheraton, but decided against it.
Sheraton and its Starwood owner had reached an agreement where it would cease to be the brand/operating partner for the resort once Baha Mar found a replacement.
Multiple sources familiar with the matter told Tribune Business that the Sheraton/Starwood had requested that Baha Mar and its owners, the Lyford Cay-based Izmirlian family, invest more money into the resort to upgrade it.
This was because guests were complaining that the on-property experience did not match the ‘sales’ or website marketing, but Baha Mar - with a $2.6 billion project next door - declined to invest more money in the Sheraton. Hence the agreed parting.
The hotel has remained operational throughout the period of the Baha Mar resort’s construction, which began in February 2011.
The portfolio of Baha Mar properties will feature other international brands, including Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, Mondrian, and Grand Hyatt, all anchored by the centerpiece Baha Mar Casino & Hotel.