By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
TOURISM Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar yesterday described the sale of the Grand Lucayan as on the “cusp” of conclusion, more than one year after a sale and Heads of Agreement was signed between the government and purchasers.
In early March 2020, the Minnis administration along with Royal Caribbean International and ITM Group signed an agreement for a $300m investment to transform the Grand Lucayan. At the time, the move was hailed as a tool to revive Grand Bahama’s beleaguered economy.
Mr D’Aguilar said yesterday progress was slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, adding all involved had been pressing for completion.
Meanwhile, RCI President and CEO Michael Bayley stressed the project was essential for the future growth of not only the company, but its relationship with The Bahamas.
“It has been a challenge to bring this to conclusion just because events on the ground have changed significantly,” Mr D’Aguilar said. His comments came during a virtual press conference by RCI marking its return to Bahamian waters this June.
“You will remember in March of 2020 we signed the deal. It was all good to go and then COVID-19 came and changed not only the world but changed cruising, brought it to a dead halt.
“So you know if I were to use a baseball analogy, we’re on the third base and on our way to the home plate.”
He continued: “Specific dates and times when you are in the hands of lawyers I found that it always takes a little bit longer than you think but as far as I am concerned using my business cap we’re at the cusp of getting this concluded.”
For his part, Mr Bayley was adamant RCI and ITM were moving “full steam ahead”. He said officials were “excited” about the future of the hotel.
“The pandemic delayed our plans literally. I think it delayed everybody’s plans in every country all over the world,” Mr Bayley said.
“I won’t rehash the journey that we’ve all been through but we’re all aware of how devastating this pandemic has been to everybody both personally and professionally.
“So, yes the pandemic literally pressed pause on this entire project but Royal Caribbean I would say is in the long game.We’re very much focused on the future.
“We believe that this project is essential for the future growth, not only of our company but for the relationship with The Bahamas. We are continuing with the project.
“It did get delayed, but our intention is to move ahead with the Grand Lucayan project and I believe that announcements or further announcements will be coming shortly.”
He continued: “We are very excited about the future of Grand Lucayan and Freeport. We see this as a huge tourism attraction destination.
“…We know how friendly everybody is in The Bahamas. We know that The Bahamas was, is and will always continue to be a massively popular destination particularly for the key American market and Royal Caribbean has a huge data base and relationship with America and the American consumer and I think it’s a beautiful partnership.
“So, the project continues. We are very much committed to the project. We are very excited to make announcements in the not too distant future and the teams have been working on it literally all of this past year.
“So, to use a nautical term, full steam ahead.”
The purchaser is Holistica Destinations, a joint venture formed between RCI and the ITM Group.
Mr Bayley; Mauricio Hamui, CEO of ITM; and Robert Shamosh, CEO of Holistica Destinations also signed the agreement.
Signing on behalf of the government was Cabinet secretary, Camille Johnson.
The Grand Bahama project is Holistica’s largest development. It comprises two major components – the Lucayan resort property and Freeport Harbour.
Mr Shamosh revealed that the hotel property will be transformed into a world-class destination, with water-based entertainment, including a massive water and adventure theme park.
Other amenities include a shopping village, that will feature a variety of activities and family entertainment, and a 40,000 sq ft convention centre.
The second component involves the redevelopment of the harbour into a new cruise facility, with three new additional berths capable of berthing the largest cruise ships in the world.