By NEIL HARTNELL
and NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporters
A major Bimini resort yesterday said it had lost a three-day block booking of all its rooms and marina as Bahamas Power & Light’s (BPL) energy crisis extended beyond New Providence.
Worried resorts and homeowners told Tribune Business that vacation rental guests were “cancelling left, right and centre” over the frequent outages, with word continuing to spread rapidly over social media and the Internet of Bimini’s electricity woes ahead of the upcoming July 4 US Independence holiday weekend.
Beth Watson, of Bimini Big Game Club, told this newspaper via a third party that the resort has “just lost a yearly group that does a buyout of hotel rooms and [marina] slips for three nights, [and] also a tour operator that I hosted to show why she should look at Bimini”. That equates to 62 lost room nights.
One Bimini homeowner, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the outages and blackouts were creating “havoc” because they “are coming out of left field” due to the absence of any schedule from BPL identifying which areas - and when - would be subject to load shedding.
They suggested that Bimini’s lost tourism business currently stood at “hundreds of thousands of dollars” as a result, and this could rapidly increase into the “millions” by July 4 unless BPL produced a solid “game plan” to both address the problem and keep consumers informed.
BPL had initially said it still retained sufficient generating capacity on Bimini following the Labour Day weekend blaze that took out its best two generation assets, capable of producing around nine megawatts (MW) of power.
However, in a Facebook message over the weekend, the state-owned utility monopoly said: “Bimini reporting that due to a generation shortage, load shedding has become necessary for Bimini. At the moment, South Bimini and Alice Town are off.
“At around 7.30pm, Bailey Town will be shut off and and South Bimini turned on. Around 9pm the rotation will allow Alice Town and Bailey Town to be turned back on. BPL Bimini will continue to load shed until necessary repairs are completed and a replacement unit is provided. Updates to follow.”
Messages posted on “The Real Bimini” Facebook page said electricity supply on south Bimini was out for seven hours - from 12pm to 7pm - on Monday. This followed Saturday outages of 20 minutes in the morning, and from 6pm to 10.30pm at night.
Ian Pratt, BPL’s chief operating officer, said on Monday that BPL planned to seek bids on providing replacement generation capacity for Bimini within the next two weeks, but the homeowner spoken to by Tribune Business said the boating visitor-reliant island was already in its “normal peak” when 75-80 percent of tourism business is generated.
“Word is out about the power crisis,” they told Tribune Business. “People are cancelling left, right and centre. If there was a schedule people could work around it, but there is none and when the power goes out the water goes out in both north Bimini and south Bimini.
“Our next big sell-out week is July 4, and people already have reservations about coming to Bimini. It’s like 100 degrees here, and there are cancellations and lot of not very nice messages from guests, which I completely understand. People who were supposed to be here till Sunday have had enough, had no power for the day, and have packed up and are leaving in the morning.”
The homeowner added that Bimini residents were suffering just as badly, and said: “IF BPL had a schedule and stuck to it, that’s fine, but these outages come out of left field and you can’t do anything about it.
“If I want to the Florida Cays, Martha’s Vineyard and they have power outages without a schedule are you going to go? Hell no. You’re not going to be without power in the dark in a 100-degree room.
“I’m staying away from Bimini because of this. I’ll be back when the power’s reliable and not before. I’m a homeowner there for over 100 nights a year, but not this summer,” they continued. “Not until they fix the power.
“I understand you have your own problems in Nassau, but there are other islands that have tourism product. Don’t forget about us. This played havoc in Abaco last year, and people ended up leaving early. Same s*, different island.”
Other Bimini business owners and residents yesterday also lamented the impact of ongoing power woes, with one telling Tribune Business: “It’s a really rough time.”
Sue Duncombe, proprietor of Sue Joy’s Variety Store in Alice Town, said: “We have had power issues now for the last few weeks. From the time of the fire, and even before the fire, we had problems. Now it’s like you have power sections.
“If I have power at my house it’s not at my store. I’ve had to close my store earlier than usual. We are really having problems. It’s a rough, especially at this time of the year. It’s not good at all.”
Ebeneezer David, owner of Ebbie’s Bonefish Club in Bailey Town, added: “We have some power issues in Bimini. We’re getting some power here and there. It’s not good but I guess it could be worse. It’s really affecting business. I had two groups come in and they wanted to eat but we couldn’t serve them because the power was off.”
Missy Lawrence, president of Resorts World Bimini, told Tribune Business it did not see any cancellations due to its ability to provide its own power for both the hotel and casino. “We have not experienced issues with cancellations etc. due to our ability to be on full generation for the hotel and casino,” she confirmed.
“However,I know that power continues to be a challenge on the island and is always a concern due to our back-of-house operations being reliant on BPL power.”
Another businessman told this newspaper: “This is not good, especially for a place so heavily dependent on the tourism business. This is not a good look, it’s not good for business. It’s a huge turn-off for guests.”