GRAND BAHAMA, Bahamas – The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism is moving aggressively to re-position Grand Bahama as a major tourists destination and is likewise in discussion to develop a new cruise ship port for that island.
Tourism Minister the Honourable Obie H. Wilchcombe outlined some positive changes ahead for Grand Bahama during his contribution to the 2006/2007 Budget Debate which wound up in the House of Assembly Wednesday morning. The matter is now before the Senate.
In a lengthily presentation, the country’s tourism boss pointed out that cruise tourism is the fastest growing sector, and that Grand Bahama must be position to receive its rightful share of this business.
“My Ministry is moving aggressively with the private sector in discussions with major players like Carnival Cruise Lines to influence the development of a new cruise port, along with support shopping and entertainment facilities in the Williams Town area, which will uplift Grand Bahama’s rating as a cruise port to enable it to achieve a cruise industry comparable
to that of Nassau within a short span,” Mr. Wilchombe said.
He told Parliamentarians that the long and short of it is that we must create the critical mass on Grand Bahama Island.
“We must cause for more Bahamian households to come into being on Grand Bahama Island. We must grow our tourism base of transient and non transient visitors by two-fold within five years,” he said.
Continuing his focus on the possibility of a new cruise port for Grand Bahama, Mr. Wilchcombe added that we must provide the incentives and take the necessary decisions now to relocate the passenger cruise terminal facility, which he feels would in the first year of operations could more than double cruise arrivals to the island.
The Member of Parliament for West End and Bimini, told House members that in his vision, with the right planning and commitment of resources, Grand Bahama Island can within a decade become as important as New Providence to the tourism sector of the economy.
“My Ministry will commit the resources necessary to achieve the goals we have set for the island,” he said.
An important step in that direction according to the Tourism Minister, is the appointment of Mr. Kerry Fountain as Senior Director for Grand Bahama Island, effective September 1st 2006.
He said that Mr. Fountain brings with him vast experience in the tourism industry having worked abroad for the Ministry of Tourism in every corner of North America and most recently as Executive Director of the Out Island Promotion Board.
“The re-structuring of the Grand Bahama Tourist Office under Mr. Fountain’s leadership will cause for renewed focus on product improvement initiatives, including customer service training, as well as improved relationships with the private sector, and management oversight of all of the new developments underway or planned for the island,” he said.
Mr. Wilchcombe, in a televised Budget Debate told Parliamentarians and the wider listening audience that the Government of The Bahamas has a vision for Grand Bahama, one that he said has “made us extremely bullish in our approach to the development of the island.”
He noted that while the Government has been rebuilding and repairing the damage from three recent storms, they also took steps to attract new world class investors, developers and operators to Grand Bahama to lead the way in shoring up the Grand Bahama tourism product.
“The immediate future will see Grand Bahama rise like the Phoenix from the 1970’s, where much of it has stood, and propel it forward at a rate that will be unmatched by any destination within the region.
“What is taking place on Grand Bahama will create a model tourism product that is in sync with the demands and preferences of today’s quality leisure travelers,” he said.
He touched on the planned $4.1 billion investment by the Ginn group at West End, which he feels will propel the island to a first class destination status.
According to the West End and Bimini MP, the construction of that project will continue to contribute to the island’s economy for twenty to twenty-five years as the more than 4000 condo hotel rooms are phase into Grand Bahama’s room inventory.
That project will also be supplemented by some 800 single family homes that will flank the resort, and in addition Mr. Wilchcombe pointed out that two signature golf courses are being designed, a Monte Carlo style casino, spas and fitness centres among other amenities will be added.
He also pointed out that the historic village of West End will be refreshed and featured as a major attraction to the resort.
Mr. Wilchcombe also touched on the multi-million dollar investments by Old Bahama Bay at West End.
Elsewhere on Grand Bahama he said that “the Royal Oasis is on track to be redeveloped in the very immediate future and re-opened.”
This project is intended to encompass the International Bazaar, which he said also requires redevelopment and repositioning as a principal attraction and icon on Grand Bahama.
He also informed that Wyndham Viva Fortuna is schedule to break ground by the Fall 2006 on their 78 room condo hotel, which with the number of two bedrooms units, will represent in the hotel capacity an additional 120 rooms.
“In total, some 595 rooms or 1190 beds should be back in Grand Bahama’s inventory by Winter 2007,” he said, adding that by 2010 it will have almost doubled its pre hurricane capacity.
The Tourism Minister also detailed improvements in airlifts to Grand Bahama and new marketing strategies for the island, among other initiatives.