By Roderick A. Simms II
Chamber of Commerce director and
Family Island division chairperson
BIMINI is seven miles of luxury resorts and hotels, native flavour, marina life, and eco-filled adventures. It is the perfect place to be if you are looking to escape the long lines of traffic in New Providence, or get away from trying to catch the subway on time in New York. You really only need a golf cart to get around the island, which is comprised of South and North Bimini. Despite the getaway appeal that Bimini offers, there are still some challenges the island faces in terms of infrastructure and preservation of the environment. Bimini is home to a variety of sharks and marine habitats. And while this gives exciting reasons to explore the island, there needs to be more room inventory along with an expanded airport to accommodate an increase in visitor traffic. Bimini being the gateway of the Bahamas, it deserves more attention from investors and those in charge to truly tap into its potential for economic prosperity.
Hotels and Resorts
Before getting into some of the larger resorts and hotels, Bimini has a handful of small boutique properties such as the famous Bimini Big Game Fishing Club, Bimini Blue Water Resort and Bimini Sands Resort & Marina. These resorts offer a unique experience for visitors who are interested in boating, beach experiences and winding down time.
The major player in Bimini's hotel market is Resorts World Bimini Resort & Casino, which carries the famous Hilton brand. The resort was originally designed to be the 'Hamptons' of the Bahamas, and its first phase launched in 2007. The sheer scale of this project, in relation to the island's size, is what concerned most Biminites and environmental specialists due to the level of dredging its original development plans anticipated.
Most of those were subsequently scaled down and/or put aside. The resort is one of Bimini's largest employers but, with a limited workforce on the island, persons from Grand Bahama and other islands have taken over 100 jobs at the resort. There is little doubt about the economic prosperity that a project of this size generates. But at what cost do they come to the residents of the Bahamas?
Some would say the developer who purchased this property in 1995 for an estimated $3 million, Gerado Capo, got a steal of a deal. After all, the resort does sit on five miles of ocean front property. The key word here in all of this is location, location, location. Repeat it until it sticks, because it is truly the location of a hotel/resort that can make or break its success. Imagine sticking Resorts World in the middle of Bay Street, inclusive of all amenities. I am sure that site pales in comparison to the idyllic setting of Resorts World Bimini. But Bimini is known for its research and preservation efforts regarding the biology of marine life, and environmentalists often take umbrage over projects such as this because of the adverse impact it can have. It is worth it?
A controlled development with little to no impact on the environment is ideal. This can be achieved through proper management and planning, special advisories from both public and private entities, and comprehensive environmental impact assessments (EIA). While we are all for investing in the Bahamas, protecting our natural resources should be priority.
Being only 50 miles away from the US mainland, Bimini is a perfect spot for boaters and those interested in big game fishing. The Bimini Big Game Fishing Club opened in 1936 with the idea of starting fishing tournaments and, today, has continued that tradition with more added activities. Bimini is widely known as the capital for big game fishing, and Floridians enjoy taking a trip over for this activity. Some fish found in Bimini's surrounding waters include the Blue marlin, Dolphin, Blackfin Tuna and Mackerel.
Outside of this sportsmanship, Bimini is also known for its beautiful diving experiences. Some of the best sites can be found in South Bimini. When diving, visitors experience an underwater museum expo with wreckage, reefs and sharks. That sounds like nothing but fun, especially for someone interested in exploring the aquatic wonders of the island.
Being known as the world's capital for big game fishing is quite a big deal. Therefore, the role marinas play in generating economic activity for Bimini is also a big deal. Bimini tops the Bahamas for the number of boating visitors with 22,732 in 2016, compared to 16,862 in 2005. No other island has been able to match or compete with Bimini's numbers. Bimini also has a high number of offshore boaters and mixed-use accommodation boaters. Based on these statistics, it is safe to say that boating is definitely a way of life in Bimini.
Large-scale hotels such as Resorts World certainly provide an economic boost for Bimini in terms of employment, consumer activity and visitor arrivals. But is this the only way to achieve such growth? Bimini has a relatively small population and workforce. But this does not mean residents do not have the ability to expand tourism offerings via vacation rental homes. The island's beauty and water adventures are enough to attract tourists beyond just a mega-sized hotel. Some visitors may be looking for a villa, a comfy apartment or a reasonable boutique hotel. It is not as if there is a lack of activities on the island. To facilitate this, the South Bimini airport is in dire need of an upgrade. With such improvements, government could see an influx in visitors and an improved airline inventory. If these two improvements were to take off, Bimini's tourism potential could be further unlocked.
No island in the Bahamas is too big or too small for investment. With Bimini being one of those islands with decent utilities and infrastructure, the opportunities to improve the island's tourism product are there. But one must be careful about their approach to investment because Bimini's marine life is a critical part of the island's attraction. Bimini is a paradise for ocean and fishing lovers, and that in itself presents an opportunity for more stopover visitors. However, expanding the island's room inventory must take into consideration environmental preservation efforts. With its proximity to the US, Bimini could be well on its way to becoming a tourist hot spot for sea lovers willing to pay the price for an unimaginable getaway.