By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Baha Mar’s guests will have to seek alternative “local shelter” if they are unable to leave the Bahamas, the mega resort confirming its end-Thursday closure prior to Hurricane Irma’s arrival.
Robert Sands, Baha Mar’s senior vice-president of government and external affairs, told Tribune Business it had already arranged the early departure of “almost 100 per cent” of guests ahead of the Category Five ‘super storm’s potential strike.
He confirmed that Baha Mar was “suspending services” at “end of business” on Thursday (today) because of Irma’s strength and size, describing the storm as an unprecedented event that had never been witnessed before in the Bahamas.
“We will not be open,” Mr Sands said. “We’re suspending services until the end of business on Thursday until the storm passes.
“Our primary goal is the safety and security of our guests and staff. We’ve made arrangements for almost 100 per cent of guests staying with us to advance their travel arrangements.
“Once the storm passes, we’ll reassess our position and be in a position to welcome back guests as quickly as possible.”
Mr Sands did not say how many visitors were affected by Baha Mar’s move, nor what would happen to those guests unable to revise their travel plans and return home.
However, Scott Allen, general manager of the 1,800-room Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar, told visitors in a September 5 letter that they would have to leave the resort, and seek alternative accommodation locally, if unable to leave New Providence.
“Should the island be placed under a hurricane warning, we will require all guests to evacuate the property - either to local shelter or to evacuate the island,” Mr Allen wrote.
“Should you wish to make early plans to depart the island, our concierge and front office teams are prepared to assist in any way possible to make this a seamless process for you.” New Providence is now under that ‘hurricane watch’ alert.
The Grand Hyatt property is the only Baha Mar hotel open at the moment, besides the long-existing Melia, as the $4.2 billion development’s prospective new ‘owner’ awaits construction completion of its Rosewood and SLS properties.
However, Baha Mar’s hurricane closure is likely to raise eyebrows among many Bahamians, not least because many locals and residents frequently opt to stay at local resorts to ‘ride out’ storms.
Visitors often do likewise, with New Providence resorts perceived as being among the most secure locations during a hurricane, not least because of continual generator power.
This also provides hotels with income at a time when incoming guests have cancelled, and several observers suggested there may be more to Baha Mar’s closure move.
Mr Sands, though, denied that Baha Mar’s “suspension of services” was odd when compared to normal industry practice.
“The reality is that no one in this region has experienced a hurricane of this magnitude,” Mr Sands told Tribune Business, “and the first and foremost goal of a hurricane preparedness programme is the safety and security of guests and associates [staff].
“It mirrors what’s happening, and what the Government is doing, with other islands as well. There’s no history of a storm of this magnitude and wind force strength.
“We’re implementing our company’s emergency response plan, and ensuring we certainly take care of our guests and ensure their safety, and then our associates.”
There are currently 6,000 visitors on New Providence, some 4,000 of whom are on New Providence.
Irma’s timing will be especially unwanted by Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE), Baha Mar’s prospective owner, and its contractor, China Construction America (CCA).
CCA is currently racing to hit a ‘substantial completion’ date of October 15 for the project, which is now less than six weeks out. That is when it is supposed to have completed the SLS Lux property, which is due to open before year-end.
Baha Mar’s Rosewood branded property is due to open in April 2018, but the completion deadlines for both could be pushed back depending on how much damage Irma inflicts.
This, too, could impact CTFE’s closing of Baha Mar’s purchase from the China Export-Import Bank, the deadline for which was extended to December 1 this year prior to the Christie administration demitting office.
The closing is dependent on CCA ‘substantially completing’ Baha Mar’s construction, with CTFE unwilling to completely rely on a contractor that had previously failed to meet several deadlines to complete on time, and on budget.
And, hovering over all of this, is the uncertainty created by the Chinese government’s policy change, which now regards overseas investments by Chinese companies in the hotel and gambling industries as ‘restricted’ and ‘banned’, respectively.