By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Baha Mar’s marketing will “kick in” once it has finalised agreements with its hotel brand operators and appointed its own promotional team, Tribune Business was told yesterday.
Robert Sands, the resort’s vice-president of government and external affairs, told Tribune Business that Baha Mar’s “very soft opening” on April 21 did not require a major marketing offensive beforehand.
He was responding to concerns about the lack of promotional activity to-date by Baha Mar’s new owner, Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE), which has raised Bahamian concerns about how it intends to attract the necessary airlift and visitor demand to fill the property.
While conceding that CTFE had yet to appoint its in-house promotional team at Baha Mar, and hire outside PR/marketing agencies, Mr Sands said the Hong Kong-based conglomerate was already moving on this.
He added that Graeme Davis, president of CTFE’s Bahamian subsidiary, was also “in the final stages” of negotiating a management/operating agreement with Grand Hyatt, one of the three hotel chains likely to brand Baha Mar.
“I can confirm that Graeme Davis and the leadership of CTFE are in the process of identifying leadership in the marketing department, and supporting agencies to support Baha Mar going forward,” Mr Sands told Tribune Business.
“He’s [Mr Davis] certainly aware of the need to have these individuals and companies in place.... He’s also in the final stages of negotiations with Grand Hyatt, and once those are in place the brand marketing will kick-in.”
Grand Hyatt is the likely brand/operating partner for Baha Mar’s convention centre and associated hotel. It had been lined up to play the same role by Baha Mar’s original developer, Sarkis Izmirlian, who had also assembled the Rosewood and SLS brands to act as the project’s high-end/luxury and lifestyle hotels, respectively.
Given that Rosewood is owned by CTFE, it will almost certainly fulfill that same role under the new ownership. SLS, too, has given every indication it wants to remain ‘on board’ with Baha Mar.
Mr Sands, though, emphasised that neither the Rosewood nor SLS-branded properties were included in the planned April 21 opening, which is focused on the golf course, convention centre, and part of the casino and casino hotel.
“We have not announced timelines for those hotels yet,” he added. “These management agreements are in the process of being completed. All of that is being done.”
Without confirmed hotel brand/operating partners, and no marketing team in place, it is virtually impossible for Baha Mar to be promoted to the global tourism market in any meaningful fashion.
However, Mr Sands indicated this was not necessary for CTFE’s plans, given that April 21 was intended to be “a very soft opening”.
Another source, with intimate knowledge of CTFE’s Baha Mar plans but speaking on condition of anonymity, described concerns over the lack of marketing and promotional activity to-date as misplaced.
Confirming the nature of the April 21 launch, they explained that similar to staffing levels, Baha Mar planned to ramp up its marketing efforts throughout the year with the main goal being the winter 2017-2018 season, starting with the Thanksgiving holiday in late November.
They suggested that it made no sense for marketing efforts to immediately ramp up, given that the timing coincided with the ‘slower’ summer months, with CTFE and the brands also gaining additional time to train their staff.
The source added that there was only going to be “a small number of rooms”, around 700-800, made available at the April 21 launch.
“I don’t think people need to be concerned,” they told Tribune Business. “This is a phased opening, and once the brand are identified then certainly the directing of business will take place.”
Meanwhile, Mr Sands said the ongoing recruitment process and other Baha Mar developments provided firm evidence that CTFE had obtained the necessary approvals and agreements to proceed from both the Government and the China Export-Import Bank, the project’s secured creditor.
“We’ve certainly advanced to the stage where it’s evident that the negotiation of these requirements, the payment of the purchase price, and with CTFE starting to employ individuals, you can be satisfied of these substantive elements.... we do have a Heads of Agreement,” Mr Sands said.
When asked about the status of CTFE’s casino licence application, he responded that “everything is progressing towards our April 21 opening.
Newspaper advertisements last week revealed that Sky Warrior (Bahamas) is the name of the company formed by CTFE to own and operate the 100,000 square foot casino, the largest such facility in the Caribbean and the project’s key amenity, given that it lies at the resort’s heart and is the central link to all hotels.
Sky Warrior (Bahamas) is owned by a British Virgin Islands (BVI) domiciled company, Sky Warrior Investments, which in turn is ultimately beneficially owned by members of the Cheng family, CTFE’s proprietors.
“We’re very encouraged with the progress we’ve made to date. There are many moving parts to this whole arrangement,” Mr Sands told Tribune Business.
“The most important thing is they [CTFE} are fulfilling their promises to the Bahamian people, the Government and the bank, and are moving to accomplish all the obligations they have to put in place for a smooth opening on April 21.”