Monday, October 26, 2015
Monday, October 26, 2015
Here follows the opening address by Prime Minister Perry Christie at the 9th Annual Exuma Business Outlook conference held at Sandals Emerald Bay, 22 October:
Ladies and gentlemen, good morning.
I am delighted to be in Exuma today to address this 9th Annual Exuma Business Outlook and to congratulate the organizer for again mounting this commendable forum.
As a tourism destination Exuma continues to demonstrate strong gains in tourism arrivals, product enhancement and visitor satisfaction.
This achievement is the result of the hard work and dedication of all of Exuma’s stakeholders working cooperatively and in concert with the Ministry of Tourism to promote the destination and improve the visitor experience.
It is appropriate that I should take this opportunity to offer to the Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Obediah Wilchcombe M.P., congratulations for the special honour bestowed on him as the Travel Personality of 2015 at the World Travel Awards for the Caribbean and Latin America which were held at this resort last Saturday. The Bahamas also won the annual award as the Caribbean’s Leading Luxury Island Destination, and Sandals resorts here in Exuma and in Nassau all received prestigious awards.
The selection of The Exumas as the host destination for the Awards Ceremony heralds its growing presence as a tourism destination in its own right; and much of Exuma’s success is further amplified by the recognition over the past twenty-two years of Sandals as the Caribbean’s Leading Hotel Brand.
Exuma Tourism Performance & Growth Initiatives
According to the Department of Statistics, this time last year Exuma’s tourism economy had recorded a fifteen percent growth in arrivals over 2013, with five percent (5%) growth experienced in hotel occupancies and fifteen percent (15%) in rooms’ revenue.
I am pleased to see that Exuma continues to do well; having recorded a sixteen percent (16%) increase in air and sea arrivals this month over last year. Exuma’s hotels also continue to receive positive reviews and are highly rated on TripAdvisor, the pre-eminent online source of consumer reviews for the hospitality industry.
Exuma’s tourism product has continued to diversify, attracting a wider cross-section of long-term investors and the travelling public. Over the course of the last several years over two hundred (200) second homes, which have been constructed on Great Exuma, Little Exuma and the Cays, are now operated as vacation rentals, which provide opportunity for even greater contributions to this Island’s economy in such areas as construction, real estate and furniture and retail sales, home insurance and maintenance, housekeeping, landscaping, property management, farming, fisheries, and handicraft.
But, as with all of our Family Islands, stronger gains in economic growth will only be realized when there is critical mass of commercial enterprises offering art, entertainment, retail shopping, sports, restaurants, tours, transportation and other activities which cater year-round to the 7,000 permanent residents and 35,000 transient visitors annually to Exuma’s shores.
Although the opportunity for consumption is high, and the level of demand adequate to simulate Exuma’s economy, the quantum of spend is not being maximized – simply because of the absence of a critical mass of commercial enterprises and niche activities. We realize that local business development has to follow resort and hotel development in these Islands to take full advantage of the investment – both public and private; otherwise, the net economic gains to the destination are not fully realized within the larger context of GDP growth.
These initiatives must be private sector led, and especially by Exumians, with much more focus by our local Chambers of Commerce, the Government and financial institutions given to the development of creative financial instruments to provide access to capital, workshops for entrepreneurs, promotion of opportunities for local business development and linkages with educational institutions to facilitate training opportunities.
The Government does and will, of course, continue its efforts to provide stimulus to private sector initiatives within the context of legislation for small business development which includes provisions under the Family Islands Development Encouragement Act and the Hotels Encouragement Act of concessionary arrangements for both Bahamian and foreign investors.
In this regard, the Government will encourage Exumian investors like Mr. Allan Smith, the Principal of Plainbay Enterprises at Black Point, to move forward with their projects in manageable phases, with a view to having Bahamians sharing more fully in the tourism economic pie, as owners of such businesses.
With average occupancies of 85% year-round, Exuma’s anchor resort, Sandals Emerald Bay, has earned the distinction of being one of the Caribbean’s leading all-inclusive resorts and has distinguished itself as one of the premier destinations for golf, spa and conference activities in the region.
With Government support, Sandals’ partnership with major airlines has resulted in additional airlift, effective and targeted promotion, and both online and travel agent advertising and marketing of The Exumas to international audiences.
Sandals has invested $137 million in Exuma since 2010 and has contributed $135 million to The Bahamian economy just in the last four years. The company has reported a 25% increase in tours alone and an economic footprint of $35 million just in 2015. Plans are on the drawing board for an additional $6 million spend in new amenities and renovations of the property.
Sandals’ dedication to staff and supplier training is unsurpassed in the region and its apprenticeship, community and corporate social responsibility contributions are exemplary.
I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank both Butch and Adam Stewart for their dedication and ongoing contributions to the people and entrepreneurs of Exuma, and its overall economic development, and for Adam’s well-deserved recognition as Caribbean Hotelier of the Year.
The Government has received and approved an application for sale of just under seventy (70) acres of land on Stocking Island for construction by Stocking Island Development Ltd. of the Stocking Island Club.
This is a $300 million development comprising a five-star 48-suite boutique hotel and eighty-eight (88) villas, spa, wellness centre, resort club, restaurant and bar, sailing school, swimming academy, and marine facilities.
The Sailing School will instruct Bahamians in the various sailing techniques used by Olympic class crafts, as well as participating in and functioning as a benefactor of the National Family Island Regatta in Exuma.
The Company anticipates that two hundred fifty to three hundred (250-300) full-time construction employees will be hired during the development phase, and two hundred fifty (250) permanent employees will be needed to operate the resort. The Government, in public consultation, will ensure that the environment and public access rights are preserved and protected as this amazing high-end development takes place.
In the Exuma Cays, Children’s Bay Cay and Williams Cay have been acquired for development of a fifty (50) pavilion-room resort complex on Children’s Bay Cay and a mixed-use property on William’s Cay catering to high net worth customers, with provision for employee housing and warehousing facilities on Barraterre, Exuma. This and a number of other projects which have received approvals are undergoing economic and environmental impact assessments and regulatory approvals by our Government agencies and remain in various stages of their development.
I am also pleased to report that February Point is advancing its product upgrade and will open new amenities plaza, restaurant and bar, sales office, spa, pool and retail shops later this year. Construction will commence shortly on phased expansion of its accommodations with twenty (20) new condo units and penthouse condos and four new homes are slated for completion within the next four months.
The owner plans to break ground on a new 120-room resort once a brand operator is identified for both the hotel and mega yacht marina at February Point. I am told that once these arrangements are in place, an additional 200 employees will immediately be sourced in a job fair in Exuma.
Community and Infrastructure Plans
These plans dovetail very well with the Government’s National Development Plan for Exuma, and specifically, the master planning of a new community centre in the Georgetown area. As you know, Exuma was identified in our strategic planning exercises. Both Abaco and Exuma were identified as destinations with sustained population growth, increased tourist arrivals and business investment and so provision was made for the enhancement of both these Islands’ airport infrastructure and health facilities.
Exuma’s population has significantly expanded with many older persons, now residents, comprising the majority of visits to current healthcare facilities. The demands of a growing population, second home owners and a vibrant tourism industry have been fully taken into account in our health-care planning.
I am pleased to be able to report that the mini-hospital in Georgetown will open either on or before January 2016.
The Ministry of Transport and Aviation also continues its planning for expansion of Exuma’s airport infrastructure in the near term including the full remediation of the Staniel Cay runway now underway.
I cannot close without making mention of the recent Hurricane Joaquin, which ravaged settlements in our southern Islands. I would like to take a moment to speak to the loss and devastation that has been experienced by the residents, business and second-home owners in Long Island, Acklins & Crooked Island, Rum Cay and San Salvador, Mayaguana and Long Cay, as well as the hurricane’s peripheral effects on Inagua, Ragged Island and Exuma. By all accounts, it was the most harrowing experience for the people in those Islands. When you survey the extent of the damage, it is only by the Grace of God that they all survived.
It has also been a test of faith, love and of inspiration within the wider Bahamian community, young and old. Be assured that both the Government and the Bahamian public at large will continue systematically with the recovery efforts. We are encouraged also by the support and relief flowing in from our friends abroad who have rallied to provide support to the relief and recovery efforts which remain ongoing.
Hurricane Joaquin has evidenced the need for complete review of our disaster mitigation, assessment and post-event coordination models.
It has shown us that, although centralization of the relief effort has its place, smaller more agile first-responder teams as well as bunkers for people and supplies, strategically located throughout our islands, are vital to the delivery of immediate relief, especially in the wake of sudden natural and man-made disasters, and particularly those associated with flooding. All of this will be taken into consideration in our national development planning efforts.
Exuma’s continued success and development as a pre-eminent tourism destination, will bear witness to the ability of each of our Family Islands, with the support of Government and private sector interests, to also develop as thriving, unique, diverse and attractive residential and tourism destinations, spread across our beautiful archipelago.