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The Christie administration took a “giant step” towards the resuscitation of Grand Bahama’s ailing economy by announcing a three-part partnership that will create more than 1,000 new jobs and increase airlift to the second city.

For more than a decade Grand Bahamians have been suffering with high unemployment and low tourism numbers and that was long before the Great Recession set in.

Prime Minister Perry Christie yesterday announced that his administration has signed a MOU with Hutchinson Whampoa – the largest resort owner in Grand Bahama – and Sunwing Travel Group, one of the largest travel conglomerates in Canada.

This major partnership arrangement, together with additional airlift and promotional measures to be announced, are designed to turn around Grand Bahama’s ailing tourism economy.

The prime minister said this is one of the most encouraging announcements made over the last decade.

He said some 1,000 new permanent jobs and hundreds of construction jobs will be created.

Here’s how: Hutchinson Whampoa will renovate and reopen its 503-room Reef Village, which will be leased and operated as a five-star, all inclusive resort by Blue Diamond Hotels and Resorts.

Blue Diamond – an affiliate of the Sunwing Travel – is a chain with strong marketing clout, which operates in Cancun, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Cuba.

“The Sunwing Group brings to Freeport a product that is lacking and in demand in the marketplace. In addition to being successful hoteliers, Sunwing continues as a major tour operator and airlift provider, meeting their essential requirements for the success of Grand Bahama’s tourism,” Prime Minister Christie said.

Sunwing, which owns and operates a fleet of 737-800 aircraft, will operate flights from several cities in Canada to Freeport.

In addition to the Reef Village and the Grand Lucayan, they will market other participating hotels in Grand Bahama.

Sunwing, through its affiliate, Vacation Express USA Corporation, will work with the Ministry of Tourism and the Grand Bahama Island Promotion Board, as well as participating hotels to restructure, support and turn the current underperforming contracted summer airlift programme from multiple USA cities to Freeport into a success, Mr. Christie said.

That will relieve the Ministry of Tourism of the current heavy financial liabilities.

“Sunwing has agreed to facilitate and encourage its beneficial shareholder TUI Travel, the world’s largest travel company, based in Europe, to consider proposals for the inclusion of Grand Bahama in TUI Travel’s destinations, including flights which operate from Europe into Orlando and to explore direct flights from Europe to Freeport,” he said.

The government, through the Ministry of Tourism, will incentivise the foregoing arrangements and provide financial support to Sunwing and Hutchinson, which will also benefit other hotels, the tourism sector and the economy.

Hutchinson, at its airport and port facilities will provide certain discounts to Sunwing in support of its flights and hotel operations, which Mr. Christie said, will be beneficial to the local tourism and the Grand Bahama community.

“As the demand warrants, Hutchinson plans to further invest in the renovation and conversion of its closed 192-room Lighthouse Point property,” he said. “The government will enter into an arrangement with the Grand Bahama Airport Company to take over the employment of air traffic controllers and air traffic control at Freeport International Airport effective July 1, 2013.”

“Treasure Bay will extend its operation of the casino until January 2013, when a replacement operator will take over the management of a smaller, refurbished and more exciting casino. Two specialty restaurants and a wedding centre will surround the gaming area.”

Both the Grand Lucayan and Sunwing will team-up with and become major players on a revitalised Grand Bahama island Promotion Board.

“It is important to note that all of the foregoing will be accomplished by my government at considerably less annual public expenditure than was being made by the previous administration,” Mr. Christie said.

“I wish to express my deepest appreciation to Hutchinson Whampoa for this significant investment which they are making in addition to their already heavy investment in their Freeport resorts.”

Despite the financial losses over Grand Bahama’s economically challenging years, Hutchinson has kept the Grand Lucayan Resort open, providing hundreds of jobs for Bahamians and working to keep Freeport’s tourism afloat.

Mr. Christie also told the Sunwing Travel Group that he looks forward to a profitable and long-lasting partnership that will yield positive results in turning Grand Bahama into “an exciting and thriving destination.”

Even though The Bahamas is an attractive major tourism destination, the prime minister said he recognises that the high cost of operating hotels and other businesses in The Bahamas, particularly in Grand Bahama and the Family Islands has eroded the country’s competitive edge with other countries.

Group Managing Director of Hutchinson Port Holdings (HPH) Dr. John Meredith addressed several rumours swirling in the media.

“I’ve seen media reports that Hutchinson and the Port Authority are inclined to sit on land. I can assure you from the top this is no way the case. If you did you’d be crazy because land values have gone down instead of up. So, it doesn’t make a particularly brilliant business decision to be sitting on land. We ourselves are out there every day worldwide trying to bring in people to invest on the island,” he said.

“One of the issues we’ve had, frankly, is financing. A lot of these companies that turn up on the front door of the Port Authority and our[door] they have great schemes, great ideas, but really they don’t have the wherewithal to back them up. We are not in the practice, certainly at Hutchinson, of going into the media every week with some new plan that we’re advising is about to take off and then it doesn’t happen. So, you may not think we’re doing anything, but we have teams here, we have the Port Authority teams as well helping us globally looking for investors and I think we’re going to get some good news pretty soon.”

Written by Jones Bahamas

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