NASSUA – The Exuma economy is hanging in the balance as the largest private employer on that island – Sandals Emerald Bay Resort – is in danger of closing its doors, according to Prime Minister Perry Christie.
The resort currently employs some 600 people.
“Today in Exuma we have challenges where a place like Sandals where the developer Butch Stewart has put incredible amounts of money into and developed an incredibly beautiful product… is fighting to try to stop from losing an enormous amount of money and could close it,” said Christie at The Bahamas Economic Recovery Strategy Meeting at the British Colonial Hilton yesterday.
“…We have to try and see what model can work.”
He said the government has met with the developer.
When asked about operations yesterday, Sandals Hotel Manager Kyle Mais told The Nassau Guardian that while occupancy levels are picking up, the resort is not making a profit.
The resort opened in 2010.
“We have not made a profit since we have been open,” Mais said.
“We need government assistance to make sure that we stay viable and actually are turning a profit because after all it is a business.
“We have met with Prime Minister Christie’s government and they have committed to working with us to ensure that the hotel remains open and that it remains viable.”
Mais added:‚”It’s very challenging to do business on the outer islands because of the logistics. We do need the support of government and local partners to make sure that we can keep the doors open and keep 600 workers employed.”
Mais said the cost of doing business is very high.
He pointed to high electricity costs, the cost of subsidising airlines, paying taxes etc.
He said Sandals is looking forward to collaborating with the government.
The hotel created an additional 145 rooms in March, which is adding to the financial strain.
Christie said the threat of a closure is not the only danger for Bahamian tourism.
He said Cuba could give The Bahamas some competition in the future if it opens up.
“If [United States] President Barack Obama wins again, he may liberalise Cuba further and there are major implications in terms of competitiveness to our tourism industry of a Cuba developing further,”‚Christie said.
An International Monetary Fund study suggests that the opening of the Cuban tourism market in the post-Castro era could result in The Bahamas losing hundreds of thousands of US visitors.
The study suggests that the opening of the Cuban market would increase overall tourism to the Caribbean but would only benefit some destinations, including Martinique, Montserrat and Antigua and Barbuda. The study says The Bahamas would likely be one of the biggest losers.
Obama has already relaxed some travel restrictions to Cuba. (Nassau Guardian)