By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
TALKS for the sale of the Grand Lucayan resort were postponed for several weeks because of Hurricane Dorian but should resume tomorrow, Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said yesterday.
Likewise, the government’s valuation of bids for the sale of Nassau Flight Services has also been pushed back, with the minister saying it is not among the top priorities.
“All the Cabinet ministers, the decision makers and the policymakers, have been focused on the storm and so the Grand Lucayan negotiations themselves have been pushed back a couple of weeks but the intended purchaser is still very much interested and negotiations are ongoing and I think they recommence on Thursday when we will get back into the weeds of trying to seal the deal,” Mr D’Aguilar said.
“So the message is, we’re still very much on track, there is a very interested developer and negotiations will continue.”
Tribune Business previously reported that officials wanted to complete the sale of the beleaguered Grand Bahama property by September or October, identifying an end of the year sale as a worst case scenario. Michael Scott, chairman of the government owned vehicle that controls the Grand Lucayan – Lucayan Renewal Holdings – has told Tribune Business the storm might delay the resort’s sale until just before Christmas, pledging: “We’ll get it done.”
The government is negotiating the resort’s sale with Royal Caribbean International and its ITM Group partner.
Ahead of a Cabinet meeting yesterday, Mr D’Aguilar also noted that Hurricane Dorian has him adjusting his projection for tourist arrivals to the country this year. He previously projected a record-breaking seven million people would come.
“I was very optimistic in mid-August when I was quite convinced we were going to hit the seven million tourist mark and I was very upbeat,” he said.
“Obviously I will have to revise those projections. We have lost Grand Bahama and we have lost Abaco. Between the two of those destinations in 2018 we received 1.1 million visitors, about 200,000 were stopover and the balance were cruise passengers. Obviously, especially Abaco will be significantly impacted and the question is are those passengers going to relocate to other portions of The Bahamas or are they still going to come? Our numbers for the month of September haven’t been put together for us to see yet (how we have fared).”
Nonetheless, he said major hotels in Nassau noticed some decline in their bookings in September and October but find that Thanksgiving and Christmas bookings are holding.
“Some of the Family Islands of course have been impacted by this storm, by this negative public relations where ‘The Bahamas has been destroyed and wiped out’ and what we’ve been trying to do is say The Bahamas is made up of many islands, come to our country and help us recover,” he said.
After the storm, the government used Bahamasair to fly people in Abaco and Grand Bahama off the islands free of charge. Mr D’Aguilar said this likely cost hundreds of thousands if not a million or so dollars. He said the storm proved the benefit of keeping Bahamasair a state-owned enterprise.
He said: “We haven’t been able to quantify into a number how much it cost but I’m sure that for as many days as they did it and the number of flights they did, (it cost) hundreds of thousands if not the low millions; mobilising of planes, the opportunity cost of that, the cost of the fuel, the staff, all of that was at a cost to the government but it’s one of the advantages of having Bahamasair.
“Yes Bahamasair costs the treasury a whole heap of money every year but it’s in catastrophes when we can call on it to move our citizens from affected areas to non-affected areas. We did it of course with Hurricane Maria or Irma back in 2017 and this is one of the advantages, albeit at a cost, of having our own national carrier.”