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A historic development

Tourism in The Bahamas took a steep dive with the global economic downturn. It is slowly clawing its way back up to pre-recession levels but we are not there yet.

The crisis had forced some developers to scale back plans made in better times, and many have still not regained the courage to move ahead in this improving but still shaky economic climate.

That Baha Mar developers broke ground on the historic single-phase$3.4 billion mega-resort on Monday must be seen as a good sign that things at home are beginning to improve.

Monday’s ceremony brought an end to years of uncertainty over the project that many had all but given up on when Baha Mar’s first joint venture partner, Harrah’s Entertainment, pulled out.

Now, in these tough times, it is hoped that Baha Mar will not only provide a huge boost to the local tourism industry, but to the overall Bahamian economy.

Tourism accounts for 60 percent of the Bahamian GDP, and current estimates are that Baha Mar will contribute an additional 10 percent growth in the local GDP.

According to Baha Mar projections, 11,000 jobs will be created–approximately 4,000 of those through the construction phase; approximately$1 billion will be added to the economy in new spending in the first year after the resort is completed; the average annual income for a Bahamian family will be raised from$29,000 to$33,500 in the first year following construction; and a 30 percent increase in stopover visitors will be seen in the first year.

Baha Mar officials have also predicted that long-term benefits will include$4.7 billion in tax revenue and a GDP contribution of$11.2 billion over a 20-year period.

Baha Mar is also spending$8 million on a Service and Training Academy to help Bahamians prepare for the jobs created by the project .

In overall size, Baha Mar has the potential to rival the Atlantis resort, which was credited with coming to the rescue of the country’s then poorly performing tourism sector in the early 1990s. But whereas Atlantis was built in phases over many years of development, Baha Mar will be built in a single phase, which has sparked concern over the resort’s ability to fill its 2,000-plus rooms at one time.

Baha Mar, largely financed by The Export-Import Bank of China, will be the largest single-phase resort development in the history of the Caribbean. The 1,000-acre resort, gaming and entertainment complex is slated to open in late 2014.

Hotel brands will include Rosewood Hotels&Resorts, Morgans Hotel Group, Hyatt Hotels&Resorts, and a world-class casino hotel, creating a total of 2,250 new rooms within four new hotels.

It will include the largest convention center in The Bahamas, with 200,000 square feet of space, which can also double as a world-class entertainment venue and sports arena. The 100,000 square foot casino will be the largest in the Caribbean, and will be the only true gaming experience outside Las Vegas.

Other amenities will include a 50,000 square-foot retail village combining an upscale shopping experience with Bahamian arts and craft, chef-branded restaurants and entertainment venues. A 20-acre Eco Water Park and pool experience, and three unique spas, including the largest in the Caribbean, will be set on the Bahamian Riviera, along 3,000 feet of the most pristine beach in the world. The planned 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Course is one of a select few such top-tier Nicklaus courses in the world, and developers say that it will be the only true championship course in The Bahamas.

While there have been small signs of life in the local tourism sector–marginal increases were recorded in hotel revenue at the end of last year and nine of the 14 major New Providence hotels ended 2010 with room revenues above 2009–Baha Mar’s move to build a resort of this magnitude in these economic times is no doubt a risky move.

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham has said that Baha Mar is no savior for The Bahamas, but the development no doubt will feel like a savior to the many struggling Bahamians who are in dire need of the jobs and spin-off effects this project is expected to bring.

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