By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
OFFICIALS are still reviewing a proposed post-COVID deal by Royal Caribbean and the ITM Group for the sale of the Grand Lucayan resort, according to State Minister for Finance Kwasi Thompson who lamented that the terms are “not as favourable as before”.
Meanwhile, he said a final decision on whether the resort in Grand Bahama will reopen next month will be made shortly.
Mr Thompson, who is also minister of state for Grand Bahama, indicated that the inactivity at the Grand Lucayan hotel and the cruise port in Grand Bahama remains a challenge for the island.
While providing an update on the hotel on Saturday at a press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister in Grand Bahama, Mr Thompson said the government must ensure that whatever deal is made leaves Grand Bahama better off than it is now.
Royal Caribbean and the ITM Group have proposed a post-COVID deal/plan to purchase the Grand Lucayan Resort and redevelopment of Freeport Harbour.
Mr Thompson said the government is continuing its assessments of those proposed post-Covid plans. A Heads of Agreement was previously signed with the group to develop the hotel and cruise port, however, the group submitted altered plans due to the pandemic.
“It is not the same deal it was before,” he said on Saturday. “It is a post-COVID deal and the terms are not as favourable as it was before.”
Mr Thompson said the government is required to do a full assessment of the plans.
“We did do a full assessment, and we are continuing the process of doing an assessment. Once completed, we would have further discussions with RCL and with ITM with respect to those plans, and we would be able to complete this long awaiting hotel and cruise port deal,” he said.
“We are confident that this is the right direction for us to go into and continue to do our best to get the right deal for the Bahamian people. It is a situation that is hugely important for us. The hotel development and cruise port development are needed now more than ever before post COVID. We believe it would play an important role in the continuing rebuilding of GB,” he said.
The hotel property has been closed for the past 18 months and has affected the tourism sector, resulting in high unemployment here on the island.
The Grand Lucayan’s board has been contemplating a February 2021 reopening as an option while it awaits the results of the KPMG probe into the merits of the revised ITM Group/Royal Caribbean deal, according to Tribune Business.
When asked about a possible February reopening, Mr Thompson said that it is under consideration.
“The hotel board provided the policymakers with a proposal to have it open, but we are reviewing that now, and the board should be announcing a final decision shortly,” he stated.
“The government is now reviewing the report by KPMG, and we are now in discussions with a BPI Group with respect to it. It is not the same deal it was before. It is a post-COVID deal, and the terms are not as favourable as it was before. And, that is why we have to take a good look at the deal as it is now. And, one of the things we are very focused on now is ensuring that whatever deal becomes of it, at the end of the day it will fully benefit the people of GB.
“One of the challenges right now is the hotel is in a state where it is not moving forward, not being developed. Our cruise port is not being developed. And so, we have to look at where you are now and ensuring that whatever it is you do, it is better than where you are now. And that is one of the things we have been focused on.
“That really is why it has taken the amount of time it has taken because we want to ensure that whatever decision is made it is in the best interest of the people of GB, and that it provides as much economic activity as much as possible. And it is one of those things we have to continually press and continue to be focused on.”
He said the government is still in discussions with the group and could not provide details of the proposed plan.
On another note, Senator Thompson indicated that the opening of fast ferry service to Grand Bahama is a very “positive step” for residents and getting visitors back on the island.
“We are pleased that we have seen the opening of Balearia in GB. It is positive not just for residents who wish to travel, but positive in providing another avenue for visitors and tourists to be able to come and visit the island of GB,” he said.
Mr Thompson believes this will encourage the other small hotel properties to open.