By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE government was yesterday urged to “take its time” and find the right buyer for the Grand Lucayan, an ex-Cabinet minister warning the nation can ill-afford another “driftwood disaster”.
Obie Wilchcombe, former tourism minister under the Christie administration, told Tribune Business that the government must not rush to find a purchaser for the hotel as this will only cause “more damage than good”.
“What’s imperative is that the government has to look for a brand or a company that can attract a brand,” he said. “The government must ensure that the company has the money. They must have the leverage for marketing. The brand has to be right, and they have to have the money to carry out what they are planning.
“If they don’t do that or have the capacity then it’s much ado about nothing. Grand Bahama has to ensure that its tourism offering is an attractive one which provides an alternative to Nassau. We have to create a product that offers diversity to our tourism.”
Tribune Business last week exclusively revealed that the Mexican cruise port developer, ITM Group, is proposing a second Freeport-based port destination that will also include the acquisition of the Grand Lucayan resort. The government initially set a six-month timeline from September 2018 to offload the hotel, with a second quarter 2019 timeline still envisaged.
“What they need to do is work toward getting something completed before the end of April/May if they intend to have an opening of at least one of the hotels by the end of the year. If you’re looking to develop a destination that is going to be mind-blowing, it’s going to take a couple of years to do it. In realistic terms I believe it will be a year before we see a top brand and top development take place,” said Mr Wilchcombe.
“I don’t think the government should be seeking to rush. They should do it the proper way. A rushed process will only cause more damage than good. We saw this before with Driftwood.”
Mr Wilchcombe, recalling Driftwood’s ill-fated purchase of the Royal Oasis in 2000, said: “They should have never been in our country. They were a disaster, and that’s what caused the downturn that we experienced. We don’t need that again; take the time to get it right.
“You’re not going to do any further damage. Sure, the government has to carry the bills but that’s the responsibility it took on. We can’t think short-term; we have to think long-term. We don’t want any more boom/bust scenarios. We have had too many of them. We have to find that group that is going to help us create and sustain a tourism plant that will be an alterative to the capital, offering diversity to our tourism product.”
ITM Group is currently proposing a $130m investment in redeveloping Freeport Harbour and the Grand Lucayan into a water-based, adventure-style theme park destination that will create 2,500 direct - and 18,000 indirect - jobs.