By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Baha Mar yesterday said its workforce was now "closer to 2,000" persons, as it confirmed that current occupancy levels were 25 per cent "and growing".
Robert Sands, Baha Mar's senior vice-president of government and external affairs, also disclosed to Tribune Business that the Government's $9 million 'equity contribution' to the project was really its marketing contribution.
"It has everything to do with the co-operative marketing," Mr Sands added, explaining that Ministry of Finance officials had informed him the contributions had been wrongly described in the 2017-2018 Budget as an 'equity contribution'.
However, the $9 million figure appears not to align with the marketing contributions agreed by the former Christie administration in its April 25, 2017, Heads of Agreement with Baha Mar's new owner, Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE).
This calls for the Government to contribute $4 million per annum over an eight-year period for a total of $32 million, whereas the Government's Budget details $9 million contributions per annum for the next three fiscal years.
K P Turnquest, minister of finance, told Tribune Business of the $9 million 'equity contribution': "We're still analysing that Heads of Agreement to see what is the commitment of the Bahamian people.
"That line takes into account what we know. To the extent that is all, or more is required, that will be determined in the coming weeks."
Mr Sands, meanwhile, said demand and bookings for Baha Mar were "growing positively" as its new owner moves forward with phased opening of the property.
He emphasised that occupancy levels were not CTFE's primary concern, as it focused more on recruiting staff and training them to meet its and hotel brand standards - the ultimate goal being to exceed guest expectations and deliver the necessary product experience.
"As we continue to open the property in a phased and thoughtful manner to ensure the guest experience is exceptional, the current occupancy is at 25 per cent and growing," Baha Mar said in a statement.
"We are confident and encouraged by the demand for groups and conventions, corporate transient and leisure guests, with daily increases in our room bookings. Baha Mar supports this thoughtful approach to the phased opening with all customer expectations being exceeded with very positive feedback. We look forward to the continued support and collaboration of the Ministry of Tourism and Nassau/Paradise Island Promotions Board in promoting the destination."
Graeme Davis, Baha Mar's president, added: "The phase one opening of Baha Mar launched with tremendous excitement. Live reservations have exceeded our expectations, and the overall demand is extremely strong for summer travel. We are thrilled to welcome guests and international visitors to the Bahamas to experience Baha Mar and all of the guest offerings and amenities."
Mr Sands yesterday confirmed that Baha Mar's 300-room SLS Lux resort was on target for an October opening, with Rosewood to follow in spring 2018.
"We are satisfied that our training of staff, service delivery and exceeding guest needs are all going in the right direction," he told Tribune Business. "That's the most important thing for us at this time as we plan for our first winter season in 2018."
Mr Sands said staff numbers were "closer to 2,000 now", having been at 1,500-1,600 for the April 25 opening, and added: "You come to the property and you'll see an orientation taking place every day.
"There'll be another exercise, specifically to meet the October timeframe for SLS. We're beginning to look at particular associates at this point in time, getting them to go through the vetting process. You can begin to look for that happening four to six weeks prior to the opening."
Mr Sands, though, said that the main thrust of Baha Mar's winter season 2018 marketing campaign would only kick-in during the 2018 fourth quarter.
"We're doing certain things by social media at the moment," he told Tribune Business. "Our real marketing for the winter season will start in October, November, December, the fourth quarter of the year."
The timing suggests that CTFE and Baha Mar are aiming to meet the peak winter season that will coincide with the Rosewood's opening in March/April 2018, and also that the first phase opening was designed solely to boost the former Christie administration's re-election chances.
Mr Sands, though, said Baha Mar's "whole product offering is growing on a weekly basis".
Apart from the Grand Hyatt's 1,800 rooms, the convention centre, golf course and casino, Mr Sands said Baha Mar's tennis club, pool and beach areas, and some restaurant and retail outlets are all open.
Among the eatery and bar options already open are Three Tides; the Churchill cigar bar; Sticks, the noodle bar; and "seven to eight places outside".