By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
GRAND Bahama must be given a signature tourism identity, a Cabinet Minister saying yesterday: "We cannot continue to proceed with stop gap measures."
Kwasi Thompson, minister of state for Grand Bahama, told the Senate that the Minnis administration will establish "a tourism signature identity in the marketplace for Grand Bahama".
"This is what is truly required for Grand Bahama," he added. "We cannot continue to proceed with stop-gap measures, but we must finally provide a proper identity for Grand Bahama. We must provide a master plan for our tourism product. It must be unique from Nassau, Abaco and the rest of the Bahamas.
"We have an opportunity with the Lucayan strip, and while the hotel must be redeveloped urgently, we must ensure that we create the right destination for Grand Bahama. This includes airlift, cruise vessels, tours and activities. Grand Bahama must be a distinct destination."
Mr Thompson agreed that the Port Lucaya Marketplace was "severely challenged" as a result of the Grand Lucayan's closure. To mitigate the effects, he said the Government in early August launched 'A Taste of Port Lucaya'.
"These series of events are designed to bring some economic boost to the tenants of Port Lucaya Marketplace," he said. 'A Taste of Port Lucaya' features top Bahamian artists and other live entertainment.
"The Ministry of Tourism team is leading our international marketing campaign in conjunction with the Grand Bahama Island Tourism Board. This will not solve Port Lucaya's challenges, and was not designed to, but it has brought more activity and some vendors advise their businesses have been helped," said Mr Thompson.
He added that the Ministry of Tourism has been aggressively seeking additional cruise ships for the island, and several vessels have been rep-routed as a result of Hurricane Irma's southern Caribbean impact.
"We have experienced a big blow when we lost the Bahamas Celebration for several months, after they were called on by the US Government," Mr Thompson said. "To assist, the FRS Caribbean will provide a vessel from Miami to Freeport on a temporary basis to provide additional stopover passengers to the island. We are also in final discussions with Sunwing and other major carriers to provide additional airlift to the island."
Mr Thompson said the Minnis administration remains committed to establishing Freeport as a technology hub, similar to Silicon Valley, with a Technology Summit schedulded for November 9-10. "The Grand Bahama Tech Summit is a call to all industry stakeholders, locally and internationally, to begin the conversation that would shape the policy for this development," he added.
"The purpose of this Summit is to gain critical insight from key industry stakeholders, and to discuss the establishment of a policy to direct the way forward for Grand Bahama becoming the gateway for innovation and technology. We must take advantage of our proximity, our infrastructure, Hawksbill Creek concessions and available land. "This is the natural evolution from the industrial sector in Freeport."
Mr Thompson also reiterated the Minnis administration's commitment to creating a Grand Bahama Investment Promotion Board to promote the island as a place for business, local and foreign direct investments. Among the Board's specific targets are promoting the Air, Sea Business Park as a logistics hub focusing on international air and sea transshipment; using the airport infrastructure to further develop the aviation industry and attract an overnight courier services clearing hub; revitalising and promoting a dynamic investment policy to encourage high net worth persons to buy and develop real estate; and promoting Grand Bahama as an eco-tourism sanctuary; and facilitating the further development of the medical tourism industry.
Mr Thompson said the Government is fully aware of Freeport's economic struggles, and said businessesand itself "are in the same fight". "We are fighting for the same things. In order for the Government to fix Grand Bahama we must unite Grand Bahama. We all must be work together for the common good," he urged. He pointed to the need to create an enabling environment that will serve as a stimulus for new entrepreneurial opportunities. An economic empowerment programme for micro and small businesses on Grand Bahama has been designed to facilitate their expansion, with key components involving training, funding, marketing and mentorship support.