By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE SLS at Baha Mar officially opened in grand style on Friday night despite the incompletion of its top two floors and only 50 per cent of the hotel’s 300-rooms filled.
At the event, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis dodged questions over whether the sale of the resort to purchaser Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE) was complete.
“The hotel is open. Are you not happy?” the prime minister responded when he was asked by The Tribune to comment on the status of the deal. “You are happy, right? I am happy. Good.”
Speaking on the sidelines of the elaborate opening, SLS General Manager Richard Alexander said while only 150 of the rooms at the hotel were occupied, this was expected to increase to at least 60 per cent over the Christmas season.
There are also 460 staff at the SLS Baha Mar, Mr Alexander said.
He said: “So we have 300 very stylish bedrooms. Most of them face the ocean. We have five restaurants right across the resort. I should mention Cleo Eastern Mediterranean Restaurant. We have Katsuya, which many people have already found and find it delicious, serving Japanese Asian food and we have many more to come. But I think the beauty of this resort is there is something for everyone no matter where you come from what nationality you are there is always something to excite you and entertain you.”
Asked to state the number of rooms filled, Mr Alexander said: “Tonight [Friday], we have 50 per cent occupancy tonight and we are on day three. That’s quite an achievement and I really want to shout out all the people who work here that make it happen.
“We will dip after this opening, but then Thanksgiving is looking really good and Christmas is looking really amazing. We’ll see at least 60 per cent occupancy over Christmas.”
He also said: “All of the rooms are open except for the top two floors but they just need some final detailing and they’ll be ready by Christmas.”
Regarding the Bahamians to expatriate ratio of the staff complement, the general manager was unable to give specifics, telling The Tribune that “pretty much all of them” are native to the country.
“We have 460 staff now operating the whole complex and they have been absolutely wonderful. I’m already getting many good comments on the hotel, but I’m getting even more comments about how engaging and friendly and smiling our associates are.
“Pretty much all of them, except for me and a few others, [are Bahamian]. We deliberately looked for Bahamian people that had personality and character rather than people who had experience and capability because you can always teach those things and we believe at SLS and SBE that our role is to teach and pass on our skills to the local associates,” Mr Alexander said.
For his part, the prime minister stressed the need to add more Bahamian culture into the property to help the brand to succeed, urging officials to ensure that additional ways are always found to weave Bahamian arts into the resort experience.
“Even as SLS brings its signature vision and principles to the Bahamas, I trust that the company may also appreciate what the Bahamas may impart to, and add to their brand,” Dr Minnis said as he addressed scores of people gathered for the opening on Friday night.
“I note, for example, the rich collection of Bahamian art at Baha Mar. This artistry represents some of the spirit of the Bahamian and Caribbean imagination, helping visitors to experience some of our cultural heritage.
“I imagine this collection will continue to grow, including at SLS, helping to feature the extraordinary talent and diversity of Bahamian artists at home and abroad,” Dr Minnis added.
He also urged officials at the resort to provide opportunities for their guests to get a taste of the Bahamian experience outside of their doors, even as they move to create a Bahamian experience within.
“Even as visitors experience the delights of Baha Mar, there should be opportunities to venture beyond the resort to experience our culture and heritage, including through heritage tours.”
This, he said, would produce opportunities for tour drivers and local shopping.
Since taking office, the Minnis administration has said very little of Baha Mar’s sale to CTFE.
Back in June, Tribune Business reported the resort’s original developer Sarkis Izmirlian urged the Minnis administration to impose “a moratorium” on the completion of Baha Mar’s sale and warned he was considering legal action against the Christie administration’s “state sponsored discrimination.”
Last month, Attorney General Carl Bethel confirmed the government received a letter from Mr Izmirlian in response to questions from The Tribune over whether the government would investigate the issuance of a casino licence to the resort’s purchaser CTFE.
The letter, said to be dated October 17, and sent to the Office of the Attorney General purportedly called on the Minnis administration to look into the previous government’s April 5, 2017 issuance of the licence, a source told The Tribune.
According to the source, the letter also referred to multiple agreements, records and documents outside of those which were already made public regarding Baha Mar.
But when this newspaper questioned what the letter referred and its details, Mr Bethel would not say.