By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
Sandals chairman, Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, yesterday confirmed that the resort chain had “taken a look” at the Sheraton Cable Beach property, but denied it was taking over the Baha Mar-owned property.
Tribune Business had been told by multiple contacts that Sandals personnel had been seen conducting ‘walk throughs’ at the Sheraton, assessing whether it might be suitable for conversion into its Beaches ‘all-inclusive’ family brand.
Mr Stewart, who made an appearance at the eighth annual Exuma Business Outlook, denied that Sandals had any plans for this, but admitted the resort chain did assess the property located just down West Bay Street from Sandals Royal Bahamian.
He said: “I know there has been talk about that; that’s not true. We looked at the place but we are not taking it over.”
Robert Sands, Baha Mar’s senior vice-president of governmental and external affairs, yesterday described speculation about Sandals interest in the Sheraton Cable Beach resort as “rumours”, but Mr Stewart’s comments indicate there was truth to them. It appears that Baha Mar may be looking for a new operating partner for the resort.
Tribune Business understands that Sheraton and its Starwood owner have reached an agreement where it will cease to be the brand/operating partner for the resort once Baha Mar finds 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 future parting.
“We’re not going to responmd to rumours. Those are still rumours,” Mr Sands said of the impending parting between Baha Mar and the Sheraton, which is currently suffering from low occupancies associated with the traditional tourism slowdown.
Meanwhile, Sandals has acquired 50 additional acres of land in Great Exuma adjacent to its Emerald Bay resort. Mr Stewart said that a decision how to use it would be made in the New Year.
“I guess in the next year, we will focus on which direction we will go and make some good plans,” Mr Stewart said. “I think the potential is so good. We need to strengthen certain aspects before we go any further.
“This development is a big, expensive one. We are making out OK, so we just want to consolidate and move ahead. We’re committed, we love it here. We are making nice inroads. Things are getting better.”
Mr Stewart told Tribune Business: “We bought land next to our Sandals Emerald Bay property to make sure that we have the capacity to expand this resort, whether into a family resort or expand the resort for what it is, so we are making sure.
““Of all the things, the marina is a big challenge for us at the Emerald Bay property. It has some flaws because it’s been really close to the drop-off. We have spent over $500,000 trying to figure what the problem is and, to date, it’s been inconclusive.
“So, in the meantime, what we’re doing is making the most of it and trying to find a way forward to improve the flow. The marina works very well except for access to it in really bad seas,” he added.
“Outside of that, it’s good. We want to do other things like a boat ramp at the back of the marina, which absorbs the energy. It’s a work in progress. But we really want to get it done.”
While acknowledging that the Sandals Emerald Bay resort had faced several challenges over the years, particularly high energy costs, Mr Stewart assured that the chain was fully committed to Exuma.
“I can’t complain. The Government has reached out and helped out with numerous things. Tourism is on their mind. They want to see things work. We’re here to say, we’re here to work,” he added.
As for the high-end boutique resort on Fowl Cay, Mr Stewart said: “We have done a lot of work at Fowl Cay. We have beefed up the kitchens, renovated the homes. I want to build another five or six villas. We’re taking our time because that has to be planned. We will get it done when the time comes. I don’t want to overdo either.”