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Pelican Bay means business

Pelican Bay means business

Owners hope new $7-million convention centre will put boutique hotel on map for corporate events, weddings

The Bahamas Investor Magazine
July 13, 2011
July 13, 2011
Steve Cotterill

Grand Bahama has long suffered from a case of chronic schizophrenia: it has the beaches of a premier tourist resort, but it is also often billed as the industrial centre of the nation, home to a shipyard, a container port and an oil storage plant.

This personality disorder is something that has not gone unnoticed by Magnus Alnebeck, general manager at Pelican Bay Hotel. “We believe that Grand Bahama is quite unique in that respect, because it is not like most islands, which have a tourist product or are regarded as a purely tourist destination. We are more of a ‘visitor’ destination. We have a lot of people who come to this island for other reasons, such as business, and not just to lie in the sand.”

New owners, new vision
Pelican Bay was acquired by the Swedish-Norwegian hotel property company Pandox AB five years ago. The company owns hotels that operate under such brands as Hilton, InterContinental, Hyatt, Radisson, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Clarion, Quality, Best Western and several others. With 121 hotels, and more than 24,800 rooms located in Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, Pandox is the biggest hotel property company in Europe. It also has interests in Canada, but Pelican Bay represents the company’s first foray into the Caribbean region.

“We have no other investment in any other business in The Bahamas,” says Alnebeck. “But the business model is the same wherever we go. We carefully evaluate each hotel that we own, and with active ownership, decide what is the best operating system for that particular property.”

With this in mind, when it came to Pelican Bay, Pandox quickly set about targeting the corporate and business travel market. “When we first took over the hotel we tried to figure out what we could do with it and quite quickly we came to a decision that going after the normal resort property type of business was just not going to work. We are not on a beach; we do not have the facilities that a resort normally has, such as a spa or tennis courts. We are more of a boutique commercial hotel. So, we repositioned Pelican Bay as a business hotel.”

The Canal House convention centre
Key to this repositioning was the realization that Pelican Bay needed to invest heavily in a facility that could accommodate the needs of this niche market. The boutique hotel planned the construction of The Canal House convention centre, big enough to host meetings and small conferences, but flexible enough to be used for social events.

“We saw a gap in the market for a venue that could accommodate smaller to medium-size local and overseas corporate business,” says Alnebeck. “Meetings of that size, quite frankly, disappear in a larger resort–we saw ourselves as a complement to [Freeport’s biggest hotel resort] Our Lucaya in that market.”

Constructed by Freeport Construction, The Canal House convention center cost more than $7 million. A five-storey building offering a total of 30,680 sq ft of meeting and function space, the new facility includes a breakfast and special function restaurant, a ballroom style meeting room, with wrap-around balconies, and four additional meeting rooms, each offering 655 sq ft of space.

At the official opening ceremony in September last year, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said: “Pelican Bay, considered one of the ‘small treasures of The Bahamas’ by our Ministry of Tourism [and Aviation], has long been one of my favoured resting points when in Freeport and I have been pleased to see you continue to succeed, even during this most recent economic downturn internationally. The addition of nearly 40,000 sq ft of meeting and convention space, new restaurant and the additional office space at Canal House, makes you an ideal location for small conferences and meetings.”

Wedding destination
Part of the thinking behind the design of The Canal House was that although it had to be functional, it also had to be stylish enough so that it could double-up as a venue for destination weddings. “We have been quite successful in the destination wedding market prior to the opening of Canal House, but we have found that this facility is very useful for that market. We were always looking for event space, often putting up tents outside, and then we had to consider what we would do if the weather turned bad. Of course many people still want to have the reception outside, but now we have an alternative in an emergency.”

Presently, Pelican Bay’s visitor demographic splits 60 per cent corporate and 40 per cent tourism and wedding event custom. “The wedding business has been a little slow recently,” says Alnebeck. “But we are gradually improving on last year’s numbers. For the overseas market, however, there are some hindrances, such as the cost of getting here and a lack of airlift. These issues need to be addressed. But it is early days and we have yet to market Canal House extensively.”

Pitching both to the local and overseas market, Pelican Bay representatives are attending industry conferences and road shows to promote the new facility and the hotel in general, with the United States being a potentially major overseas market. “But we are not underestimating the potential of the local market,” says Alnebeck. “A lot of business has a local connection. At Pelican Bay we want to be the British Colonial of Grand Bahama. A hotel convenient to stay in, and easy to conduct business from. A hotel that has great facilities for meetings, events and weddings for the local and overseas market.”

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