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Baha Mar: February 'goal' for final hotels

* President says return 'real shot in arm'

* Expects 'strong pick up' for Xmas season

* Full return of workforce may take till 2022

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Baha Mar's president yesterday revealed its two remaining hotel brands will re-open in February 2021 as he hailed the mega resort's return as "a real shot in the arm" for the Bahamian economy.

Graeme Davis, speaking after the $4.2bn Cable Beach property confirmed its Grand Hyatt resort will open on December 17 at "a maximum 60 percent capacity", told Tribune Business that the more than 1,500 staff who will be recalled for this first phase represent about 30 percent of its total workforce.

He added that more were likely to return in the New Year, as Baha Mar is targeting February 2021 as "the goal" for re-opening its high-end Rosewood and SLS properties in time to catch the traditional peak months of the winter tourism season.

The Baha Mar chief, though, said this timeline could alter due to the ever-evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic both in The Bahamas and abroad. Linking the return of other furloughed staff to how quickly tourism demand ramps back up, he added that it may not be until 2022 that the full workforce is back on property.

However, with Baha Mar spotting "light at the end of the tunnel" following its closure more than seven months ago on March 25, Mr Davis said the mega resort may also be able to re-hire some of the 1,100-1,200 employees it permanently terminated during the summer through the creation of "a minimum 500" new jobs at its new water park and additional amenities.

Disclosing that Baha Mar had not allowed the COVID-19 crisis to go to waste, he added that the resort had pressed on with a $300m investment to refresh and upgrade its product offerings/visitor experience via the Baha Bay water park and Beach Club plus the addition of other retail and restaurant options.

Enhancements have also been made to its Melia Nassau Beach resort, which is also expected to re-open in the 2021 first quarter alongside the Rosewood and SLS. While bookings from December 17 through to the New Year at Grand Hyatt are "certainly a low number at present", Mr Davis said Baha Mar expects these could increase swiftly following its re-opening confirmation.

Describing December 17 as "the right time" to return, given that it coincides with when families will be determining their winter vacation plans, he added that Grand Hyatt could have "several thousand guests" over the Christmas period with COVID-19 border entry testing regimes increasingly driving travellers to last-minute reservations.

"It's an opportune time to open," Mr Davis told Tribune Business. "The US elections are hopefully going to settle down soon, and it certainly catches the festive season. But, most importantly, it's that time when people are thinking about their winter break; thinking of February, their children's Spring Break and taking the children out of school.

"Now's the right time while people are thinking about their winter break, so now is an opportune time to re-open." He added that Baha Mar was well-equipped, through its Kids Club and Explorer Programme, to provide children with online learning facilities so that they and their parents can also enjoy a work and education vacation.

The Government's announcement of The Bahamas' entry testing requirements for visitors, together with the recent drop in New Providence's COVID-19 infection rate, have also helped pave the way for Baha Mar's return by providing greater clarity and confidence.

"We're excited at this time to call back about just over 1,500 associates," Mr Davis said, "and we're certainly looking forward to bringing back many more. We certainly have a goal of opening up the next phases in early 2021, the Rosewood and SLS.

"Our goal will be February. That could change, but that's the goal for us. We feel very confident in our safety protocols. Of course, we are in full construction with our Baha Bay water experience, which will come on line fully by next summer 2021. That will create, at a minimum, another 500 jobs at Baha Bay.

"We expect to look at recalling some of our associates that we ended up permanently severing. We hope there may be opportunities here later in 2021, but it really depends on business returning to where it was pre-COVID. It may take all of 2021 and into 2022."

While reservations at the Grand Hyatt, which will have about 1,080 of its 1,800 rooms online for December 17, are presently low, Mr Davis said Baha Mar expects "the pick-up to be quite strong for the festive season" with The Bahamas' five-day pre-travel window in which visitors have to obtain a negative COVID-19 PCR test likely pushing bookings towards last-minute decisions.

"I'll tell you that it's certainly a low number as far as what we have on the books for December 17 and through Christmas," he told Tribune Business, "but we feel the traveller today is making last-minute decisions.

"We're quite confident that with our announcement today there will be a very strong pick-up, and it will be very last minute, of transient demand... There's definitely some pent-up demand. We're optimistic the pick-up will be quite strong for the festive season. We have 1,800 rooms. Multiply that over the holiday season, and we could have several thousand guests staying with us."

Mr Davis also voiced confidence that sufficient airlift will be in place from the US to meet the demand produced by Baha Mar and other resorts which have opened. He said discussions with American Airlines had revealed "a solid line-up" of flights coming from core markets such as the north-east, Florida, Charlotte and the mid-west US in time for the Christmas season.

Emphasising that visitor and staff safety was "of the utmost importance" and its "number one priority", Mr Davis said Baha Mar had decided to administer a rapid COVID-19 antigen test to guests upon their arrival at the resort - despite the Government doing away with this measure at the border - to provide "another level of safety" that increases visitor confidence.

He explained that the mega resort, owned by Hong Kong-based Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE), was partnering with Doctors Hospital on this initiative and the testing of its staff. Baha Mar workers will be tested for COVID-19 upon their return to work, and weekly thereafter, in a bid to further mitigate infections and their spread both in the resort and outside in the community.

Disclosing that Baha Mar has invested "hundreds of thousands of dollars" on COVID-19 protection equipment and resources, Mr Davis said the resort was also exploring how it could develop a testing regime covering all members of a group booking. That business traditionally accounts for around 30 percent of its total bookings, and several such reservations have been made for February 2021.

Besides Baha Bay, the Cable Beach-based mega resort's new Chef Marcus Samuelsson restaurant is due to open in 2021 along with the Sugar Factory outlet that features a partnership between the franchisor and Bahamian investor. John Bull is also adding new retail outlets, with Hackett's of London, Tory Burch and Montblanc among the new brands.

"Certainly we can see light at the end of the tunnel with the opportunity to get re-open and people back to work," Mr Davis told this newspaper. "It's a real shot in the arm to get moving again. I hope it's a pathway for the local economy to get moving again."

Comments

tribanon 1 year, 9 months ago

Graeme Davis is obviously blowing a lot of hot air here in an effort to curry some favour with Minnis and D'Aguilar on behalf of his paymaster Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE), whose principal owner is known to have close ties to the sinister and evil Chinese Communist Party.

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