By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
COCO Cay in the Berry Islands is number one of 500 cruise destinations in the world for Royal Caribbean International, a cruise line executive said this week.
Michael Bayley, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International (RCI), said the destination is “hugely successful” with the highest guest satisfaction rate of all other destinations to which the cruise line sails.
He said that the cruise line is pleased for the opportunity to be a part of the rebirth and transformation of Grand Bahama to a “world-class premier attraction.”
“RC understands that great destinations are an important part of the recipe to delivering unforgettable experiences and that is what we do,” he said.
“We delivered on the Berry Islands with a hugely successful day at Coco Cay; it is now our number one destination in the world, and it rates as the highest guest satisfaction destination of all 500 destinations that RC takes our guests to.”
While in Grand Bahama on Monday for the signing of the purchase of the Grand Lucayan resort by RCI and ITM Group, the cruise executive indicated that cruise line executives are committed to ensuring that Grand Bahama becomes a world-class destination.
In addition to the sales agreement signing, a heads of agreement was signed with the government approving a $300m project investment to redevelop the resort and Freeport Harbour by Holistica Destinations, a joint venture formed by RCI and ITM.
The development calls for a water theme park, a shopping village, convention centre, casino, and other amenities for family entertainment. Three additional new berths will be developed at the harbour, as well as a harbour village, comprising restaurants, shopping outlets, beach and wellness areas.
“We want visitors to come back to Grand Bahama again and again. And that is why Holistica is committed to undertaking the extensive development together with phenomenal support from the Bahamian government to truly transform the property into an unparalleled, world-class premier attraction within the Caribbean and the region,” said Mr Bayley.
The Grand Bahama tourism sector has been on the downturn since October 2016 following Hurricane Matthew, which caused devastation on the island, and significant damage to the resort, forcing its closure.
The government purchased the property in September 2018 from the previous owners Hutchison Whampoa for $65m and reopened the resort. Last March, RCI signed a letter of intent to purchase the property from the government for $65m.
In early September, superstorm Dorian caused further devastation to the island’s tourism industry, and also delayed the RCI/ITM purchase deal.
At Monday’s signing, Mr Bayley said: “We know that we have to be measured with our expectations and not assume that this project is the solution to every issue in Grand Bahama. It would be important to pace ourselves, and we request we are provided the time to work with everybody in the community.
“The size and scope of this project make it ideal to embrace the distinctive Bahamian culture, as well as offer a wide range of entrepreneurial opportunities for locals,” he explained.
He said that RCI values the Bahamas, and believes the partnership with the Bahamian government and Holistica is a winning one.
Mr Bayley is assured that Holistica Destinations is determined to reinvent the property as a showcase for land-based visitors arriving by air, and cruise and ferry.
“Getting to the finish line means bringing more ships and guests to Freeport,” he said.
Mr Bayley also believes that the newly reimaged destination experience will encourage local residents displaced by the “horrific impact of Dorian” to return to Grand Bahama.
“It means so much to Royal Caribbean to be able to be part of that story of rebirth. And it is with that hope that we are determined to make the many steps in the process of the journey to get us there,” he added.
He said that training is key to delivering on a world-class destination.
“We have trained hundreds of Bahamians to work at our private destination Perfect Day and to work onboard our ships. With this project we will look for opportunities to establish additional training programmes with a focus on careers in hospitality and tourism,” he said.