By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
MINISTER of State for Grand Bahama Kwasi Thompson has assured the government is addressing the question of airlift for Grand Bahama, after airline Sunwing announced plans to scrap its summer airlift initiative.
He also said the government's discussions with all potential purchasers of the Grand Lucayan includes airlift support.
Mr Thompson, pictured, said that the demands made by Sunwing to provide airlift were "unreasonable and uncompromising".
On Friday, Tribune Business reported that Grand Bahama's struggling tourism industry was forced to confront another "significant loss" of 30,000 annual visitors after Sunwing pulled the plug on its summer airlift initiative.
It was further reported that Sunwing, whose Memories resort affiliate exited Grand Bahama in January 2017, suggested its airlift withdrawal would take the island's stopover tourism product "backwards to its lowest levels in decades" and that "many of our hotel partners will be closing for some or all of the summer months and reducing staff dramatically."
In a statement issued on Sunday, Mr Thompson said: "Sunwing's predictions should also be rejected as they are well aware that any deal to purchase the hotel includes an airlift component which would successfully replace Sunwing."
"We would not sell the hotel without adequate airlift and no one would buy it unless we agreed airlift plan," he added.
Mr Thompson indicated that the Ministry of Tourism is executing its marketing strategy and is using Bahamasair to create packages for the hotel.
Additionally, he noted that Bahamas Paradise cruises is also working on a package for the hotel.
"Grand Bahamians can rest assured that the Minnis administration will continue to not just talk about fixing Grand Bahama but, as we demonstrated with the purchase of the hotel, we will deliver for Grand Bahama," Mr Thompson said.
He also said Sunwing proposals to operate the Grand Lucayan and provide airlift to Grand Bahama was rejected by the government.
"No reasonable government would agree to such terms," he said.
Mr Thompson said that since 2013, Sunwing operated the Memories resort at the Grand Lucayan and provided airlift for their resort, but the agreement came to an end after Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
He explained that Sunwing entered discussions with this government in May 2017 to operate the hotel Grand Lucayan and to provide airlift support. The discussions were a part of the overall Paul Wynn deal, he said.
"The prime minister in great detail stated why the Wynn deal was rejected. He also stated that our discussions with Sunwing came to an end because of unreasonable demands which the government could not agree," the minister recalled.
He said the government refused to accept Sunwing's "unreasonable and uncompromising demand" of a $4m payment from government every year for a fixed seven-year period to provide airlift for four months.
"The government also refused to agree Sunwing's demand to increase the $4m payment by ten percent every year. This could amount to a cost of $1m for one month and the numbers could possibly mean the government was in essence paying for the cost of every ticket," Mr Thompson said.
He also said Sunwing had also refused to agree to certain protections for Bahamians.
The tour operator, he said, refused to ensure during the construction phase that a minimum of 400 Bahamians would be employed with a ratio of 85 percent Bahamian and 15 percent non-Bahamian.
"We have more than enough qualified contractors in Grand Bahama to fill their need," he said.
Another issue, he said, was Sunwing's refusal to ensure that during operations there would be a minimum ratio of 90 percent Bahamian and 10 percent non-Bahamian.
Mr Thompson stressed that there are more than enough qualified Bahamians to successfully operate and manage a hotel.
"The government would not agree to Sunwing's demand to exempt them from any local advertising requirement or payment of work permit fees. The government could not compromise on this important point which informs locals on what jobs are available before it can be offered to non-Bahamians," he said.
He said Sunwing also refused to agree to employ Bahamian tennis and golf professionals if they were available.
The government recently purchased the Grand Lucayan resort, and two weeks ago Mr Thompson revealed the Minnis administration is receiving significant proposals from prospective buyers for the resort. He also stated that they are looking for Bahamasair to provide airlift for the hotel.