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No overnight flight crews in Freeport for 7-8 years

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A Grand Bahama hotelier yesterday exposed the depths of the island’s tourism decline by revealing that no regular commercial airline flight crew has stayed overnight at his resort for around seven to eight years.

Magnus Alnebeck, Pelican Bay’s general manager, told Tribune Business that the property once served as the regular overnight accommodation for as many as four commercial aviation flight crews. However, this ended “many years” back, and he estimated that Grand Bahama’s lack of hotel room inventory and clearly-defined tourism product meant it now lagged at fifth or sixth spot in terms of the Bahamian islands attracting the most airlift.

Illustrating how far Grand Bahama and Freeport have to travel in reviving their tourism product, he revealed: “There was a time when Pelican Bay was accommodating three, and sometimes four, overnight flight crews. It’s now many years since we had an overnight flight crew in Grand Bahama. American Airlines was probably the last, and that was probably the last.”

Hurricane Dorian-related devastation interrupted late evening and night flights into Grand Bahama International Airport from September 2019 onwards, but Mr Alnebeck said the end to evening and early morning departures the following day had put an end to overnighting apart from when an occasional crew that was part of Sunwing/Memories summer airlift initiative was present.

“It’s fallen off a lot,” Mr Alnebeck said of Grand Bahama’s airlift. “We are number five or six now when it comes to air arrivals. We’re behind Marsh Harbour (Abaco), Bimini, North Eleuthera and Exuma. Exuma has five to six times the amount of airlift we have in Freeport.”

Many observers believe the situation will not improve until the Grand Lucayan and Grand Bahama International Airport are redeveloped into world-class facilities. However, Mr Alnebeck argued that the emphasis needed to be placed on attracting airlift rather than upgrading the airport, adding that the latter needs merely to be functional based on Exuma’s experience.

“They don’t have the most fantastic airport but they have the airlift,” the Pelican Bay chief said. “We sometimes think it’s the airport and not the airlift, but that’s not the case. Having a nice airport is not going to solve it. We need to have the product that drives the demand, that drives the airlift, and then need an airport to deal with that airlift.

“That’s what we need. The more important thing is work is going on at that airport. I believe that is the more important thing; that we try to make sure we have something in place to handle a few more flights. Nothing is going to happen overnight.”

Mr Alnebeck said he, too, was in “wait and see” mode and “hoping for the best” with just one day to go before Electra America Hospitality Group’s due diligence period for the Grand Lucayan expires on September 15. That is the deadline for the prospective buyer to pay the $5m deposit towards the $100m purchase price, unless it is extended or new terms are agreed.

Freeport business sources have told Tribune Business there is a growing sense of unease over whether Electra America’s Grand Lucayan acquisition will proceed to a closing given both the property’s history and lack of information on the sale’s progress.

Mr Alnebeck, like this newspaper, confirmed he had heard suggestions that other potential Freeport and Grand Bahama investors are placing their plans on hold until there is confirmation of the Grand Lucayan’s fate. “There’s very little if any activity,” he added. “It’s a hard destination to get excited about until we know what happens.”

As for the Grand Lucayan, he said: “It started as a Sheraton and Westin, then became a Radisson and then became a Memories, then a Lighthouse Point. It’s in desperate need of figuring out a formula that will actually work.”

Despite Freeport’s struggles, Mr Alnebeck said Pelican Bay continues to be boosted by the Grand Bahama Shipyard. “We actually had a decent first two weeks in September due to the fact Crowley had a dry dock in Grand Bahama, so we had a substantial amount of room nights associated with that,” he told Tribune Business.

“The first two weeks in September were better than they normally are. That’s what happens. We had one ship in dry dock, and got 35 rooms for 20 days. It makes a big impact for us. We’re running about 50 percent [occupancy], which is better than the 30 percent we ran in August.”

Chester Cooper, deputy prime minister, previously said there were three remaining bidders for the contract to redevelop Grand Bahama International Airport via a public-private partnership (PPP) model with the Government. However, the Government may have to begin the necessary upgrades itself prior to the selection of a winning bidder.

Electra America’s plans involve three resort properties. A four to five-star branded luxury lifestyle hotel, featuring 198 rooms and 24 villas and targeted at corporate and leisure business; a four-star convention hotel with 535 rooms, featuring an amphitheatre and convention centre; and a 257-room condo-hotel style family resort with suites that are double the size of the Grand Lucayan’s existing rooms.

Comments

ScubaSteve 2 months, 2 weeks ago

He is 110% correct -- you first need to offer a "reason" to visit Grand Bahama. Personally, I would definitely pick Abaco, Bimini, Exuma, and/or North Eleuthera way, way, WAY over GB any day of the week. Don't get me wrong, I've been to GB. However, as of today, I can't think of ONE reason for me to visit GB over any of those other Out Islands mentioned in the article. So yes -- they need to work on developing some attractions or reasons a visitor will want to come visit GB.

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