By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
An all-Bahamian team has seen its “dream come true” via the Boxing Day opening of Abaco’s $3.25 million Sandpiper Inn, which is now targeting 50-60 per cent average occupancy rates for spring/summer 2015.
James Malcolm, The Sandpiper Inn’s managing director and vice-president, said the 100 per cent Bahamian ownership and management team felt “a real sense of accomplishment” after hitting their deadlines for the opening of the Schooner Bay-based boutique hotel.
“We did it on schedule. It’s a miracle, but we did it on plan,” Mr Malcolm told Tribune Business. “It’s very exciting. It’s a dream come true for me.
“We’re really looking forward to this. We have really great expectations. We’re thrilled. It’s a real sense of accomplishment. The place is beautiful. It really evokes the old Bahamas.”
While tourism on Abaco was traditionally quiet for the first two months of the calendar year, Mr Malcolm said its ‘Medicine Chest’ bar and the restaurant would sustain the Sandpiper Inn until the boating season picked up in March.
“I would expect in Spring and Summer to be running 50-60 per cent occupancies,” Mr Malcolm told Tribune Business, with the Sandpiper expected to generate between $2-$3 million in annual economic activity for south Abaco.
The property, which has 24 bedrooms including the six vacation cottages, employs six full-time and three part-time staff.
Mr Malcolm said some 54 persons came to the resort’s November job fair, with seven - all from south Abaco - ultimately hired.
He explained that this fulfilled a key objective for the Sandpiper’s management and ownership, which is to ensure the project and its associated investment chiefly benefit the south Abaco economy.
“South Abaco doesn’t have the economy of a Marsh Harbour or Treasure Cay,” Mr Malcolm told Tribune Business. “All those people are eager to work here.”
The Sandpiper Inn is also seeking to create spin-off opportunities for South Abaco businesses by sourcing its food and other supplies from them.
Mr Malcolm said fresh seafood was being obtained from fishermen in Sandy Point, Crossing Rocks and Cherokee Sound; organic produce was coming from Schooner Bay’s own Lightbourn Farms; and baked and pastry products were being supplied by village bakers in Crossing Rocks and Sandy Point.
Apart from tourists, and residents in Schooner Bay, Mr Malcolm said the Sandpiper Inn was seeking to attract business from other Abaco residents - especially persons living in areas such as Marsh Harbour and Winding Bay.
He explained that the property was looking to tap into the demand for restaurant locations on the Abaco mainland, with patrons seeking eating and drinking options other than on nearby islands.
To encourage persons who may not want to undertake the drive back to Marsh Harbour after a drink, Mr Malcolm said the Sandpiper was offering promotions such as ‘Dinner for a Room’, where a $120 restaurant spend resulted in a $100 discounted room for the night.
The Sandpiper’s first guests, a California couple, repeat visitors to the Schooner Bay community, arrived on Boxing Day and spent five nights at the property as they participated in a wedding ceremony.
“It was a great way to kick-off, christen the place. It was a great vibe,” Mr Malcolm told Tribune Business. “I believe we exceeded expectations in the first week, because the folks who attended the buffet and the wedding were blown away.”
Schooner Bay began development in mid-2007, and now has 26 houses and several businesses around a harbour that can cater to boats up to 65 feet in length.
The community offers dockage, fuel, a general store, golf cart and bikes rentals, a beach club, art studio, farm, fishing lodge and clinic.