Friday, February 3, 2017
Friday, February 3, 2017
Madam President of the Caribbean Hotel Association, Ministers and other dignitaries, members of the Hotel and Tourism Industry, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Your presence here with Caribbean Travel Marketplace two years in a row is quite a testimony to the quality of the experience that you have found in The Bahamas. And that testimony is affirmed by the number of your delegates that added post-Marketplace trips to other islands of The Bahamas.
We recognize that The Bahamas is a diverse but cohesive collection of islands strung across the rim of the Caribbean Sea, covering an area equal to that between Puerto Rico and Trinidad. This distinction is both a challenge as well as our long-term strength as we seek to develop all the Islands in the Bahamian archipelago.
In many respects, the subculture and history of Abaco in the north to the subculture and history of Inagua several hundred miles to the south is as different as the cultural and historical difference between two countries of the Caribbean. It is that mélange that makes the Bahamas The Bahamas. It is that mélange that makes us such a very proud and varied group of people in every sense of the word.
Now these occasions are often an opportunity for the host country to provide an update on of significant touristic projects and achievements. These include Island House, The Pointe, Ocean West, Warwick, Albany and One & Only Ocean Club in New Providence.
In addition, significant expansion is taking place for other resorts interspersed throughout our islands such as Resorts World’s Bimini Bay in Bimini; Baker’s Bay and Winding Bay in Abaco and February Point in Exuma.
New projects will be coming on stream in the near future in Lyford Cay; at the JMMC Exuma Great Adventure Resort, and Stocking Island Club; as well as touristic developments at Children’s Bay & Williams Cay, Exuma.
We are also creating and improving new cruise ports with partners like MSC, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruise Lines in new developments and partnership arrangements where they not only meet infrastructure costs but create and finance entrepreneurial opportunities and develop new attractions and amenities. Their contractual obligations also include training and employment of Bahamians not only onshore but also on board their ships and promotion of the destination.
The Bahamas continues to grow and develop a diverse and multi-appealing tourism product and is poised to benefit immensely from the imminent completion and opening of the mega Baha Mar resort project on Cable Beach.
Since we gathered here for last year’s Marketplace, the property has gone through provisional liquidation and receivership. In addition to the $3.5 billion already invested, the Export Import Bank of China, at my Government’s request, is financing another $600 million towards the resort’s completion, the payment of unsecured creditors including contractors, employers, suppliers, utility companies and certain Government agencies.
The property has been sold to new owners, CTF Enterprises, a Hong Kong based conglomerate who are operators of top branded hotels, property developers and owners of other commercial enterprises in various parts of this world. They are making plans to add additional features to what is already the largest single resort complex under development within the Region.
The new owners will begin with the phased opening in April of the 1800 room flagship Grand Hyatt Hotel and Convention Centre, the largest world-class casino in the Region and a Jack Nicklaus Golf Course. Other brands such as Rosewood, which is owned by CTF Enterprises, and SLS, will be completed and opened later in the year. The hiring process of some 1500 new employees for the phased opening has commenced and by year-end when the project is completed, several thousand additional jobs will be created.
The re-development of the historic downtown area of the City of Nassau is well underway with a 200 million investment in The Pointe, which in addition to the upgrading of the Hilton hotel, will include a five-star luxury eight storey new hotel, condominiums, a spa, marina and yacht club, parking garage, entertainment, retail shops, commercial centre and a boardwalk along the waterfront.
Atlantis, where Marketplace is being splendidly hosted, not only continues as a market leader, but also the largest private sector employer in the Bahamas, with over 7,700 employees. This resort is carrying out multi-million dollar upgrades, and will maintain a vibrant capex programme over the next three years which will have a significant economic impact among local contractors, suppliers, entrepreneurs and their employees.
We are proud of all the changes here at home, and also grateful to be able to contribute to our fellow Caribbean nations — in fact, I serve as Chairman of the Tourism and Creative Industries Desk for CARICOM, and my Minister of Tourism serves as Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Caribbean Tourism organization, and his Director General serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors for CTO.
Several months ago, I challenged several members of your executive and Board and the Board of CTO to come back to me with policies and innovations for ensuring that tourism development benefits the lives of our citizens to the fullest extent possible.
We now propose to have several of those identified initiatives presented to our CARICOM colleague Heads of Governments in mid-February, with the hope that those ratified there will find favour with the entire membership of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association and with the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
High on my personal list of priorities is to see a region which takes full advantage of developing and marketing the incredible creative energies and entrepreneurial talent of our people. The Bahamas, Jamaica, Trinidad, Cuba, Barbados, the Dominican Republic….the list goes on….have done wonderful things to capitalize on their culture, arts, culinary offerings, and history and begin to inculcate them into their tourism offerings.
Imagine what we could do if we organized our efforts to develop and market our creative industries. This would be unparalleled product differentiation in a global environment where consumers want unique experiences and encounters.
We need to market this incredible untapped, under-utilized brand we call ‘Caribbean’. There are several examples of successful public-private sector initiatives when resources were allocated to collectively market brand Caribbean. The results were evident from these investments, as they sparked a considerable increase in visitor arrivals, stimulating your businesses, our economies, and increasing overall tax revenues for our Governments.
We must find a way to sustain the management and funding by the public and private sectors to support the marketing of brand Caribbean and provide and maintain essential infrastructure to international standards.
And, of course, my top priority remains a greater focus on preparing our people so they are ready to take full advantage of the varied opportunities which tourism offers – for employment, as a career and as a business opportunity. There are many pockets of success in the region. We need to catalogue them and draw upon lessons learned, sharing and building upon best practices. This must be done collaboratively, by the public and private sectors.
I want to say a word, too, about transportation. We’ve been talking about the need to make it easier and less expensive to travel to and within the region. We need to move more of the talk to action. I note that CARICOM, the OECS, the Caribbean Development Bank, CTO, CHTA and others have done numerous studies which recommend steps which can be undertaken to address this. We need to move from research to action.
And something of incredible importance: the environment. People visit us to meet our amazing people, to enjoy our culture, and to marvel at the incredible beauty they find here.
Yet our environment is under assault. I was pleased to see the Caribbean, through CARICOM, lead the way last year in Paris to place the stewardship of our environment at the top of the global policy agenda. The Caribbean’s very existence is threatened by the undisputed escalation of environmental degradation and change. We as a region, and you as the industry with the most at stake, must proactively be part of the solution.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have had the good fortune of serving as Minister of Tourism of the Bahamas and as the Prime Minister of a country whose GDP relies heavily on the success of tourism. I am intimately familiar with the opportunities available to us as individual countries but I am even more familiar with the kind of synergy that is created when we cooperate.
Eighteen months ago when I demitted my term as Chairman of CARICOM, I challenged my colleagues Heads of Governments to use tourism as a tool to quickly stimulate our economies and address some of the most vexing matters our jurisdictions face – high unemployment, especially among youth; escalating debt; and the need to stimulate entrepreneurial activity.
Gainful employment either as an entrepreneur or as an employee is among the most desired and self-affirming experiences of any people. That is why we are proud to have created nearly 32,000 new jobs in the Bahamas over the past four years and we will create thousands more in the coming months as the job-creating engine of our tourism powers up.
And I am convinced that we have only just begun to scratch the surface with regard to the job-creating power of travel and tourism in our region. When tourism demand grows, the legal, accounting, banking, IT, retailing, entertainment, dining, sports and cultural industries flourish. So first and foremost, all of our efforts must gather behind growing demand for Caribbean tourism. When we grow the pie, the quality and number of people participating in its consumption grows accordingly.
I am so pleased this evening to be afforded this opportunity to be with you. We have with us this evening many of the region’s public and private sector tourism leaders, who, along with my colleague Heads of Governments have the capacity to affect monumental change. We need to all challenge ourselves.
Wishing you a most fruitful Caribbean Travel Marketplace.