Thursday, Aug 22, 2019
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Govt strikes back at Sunwing

Minister of State for Grand Bahama Kwasi Thompson yesterday outlined what he called “unreasonable” and “uncompromising” demands made by Sunwing Travel Group, including a demand for the government to pay $4 million every year for a fixed seven-year period to provide airlift for four months.

Thompson said the government also refused to agree to Sunwing’s demand to increase the $4 million payment by 10 percent every year.

He said this could amount to a cost of $1 million for one month and the numbers could possibly mean the government would be in essence paying for the cost of every ticket.

Sunwing announced last week that it intends to pull out of Grand Bahama due to its impasse with the government.

Chief Marketing and Technology Officer for Sunwing Janine Massey suggested that Grand Bahama hotels will suffer next summer due to its decision.

Massey explained that Sunwing had consistently exceeded its promised load factors when bringing Americans and Canadians to Grand Bahama, and helped to keep many Grand Bahama hotels open.

But Thompson suggested it would have been irresponsible of the government to give in to Sunwing’s demands.

“No reasonable government could agree to such terms,” the minister said.

Since 2013, Sunwing operated Memories at the Grand Lucayan and provided airlift for the resort. This agreement came to an end after Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Thompson explained that Sunwing entered discussions with the Minnis administration in May 2017.

These discussions were to operate the Grand Lucayan and provide airlift support. The discussions were a part of the now collapsed deal that was being negotiated with Paul Wynn to purchase the resort.

Thompson said Sunwing refused to agree to certain protections for Bahamians.

“Sunwing refused to ensure during the construction phase, a minimum of 400 Bahamians [would] be employed with a ratio of 85 percent Bahamian and 15 percent non-Bahamian,” Thompson said in a statement.

“We have more than enough qualified contractors in Grand Bahama to fill their need. Sunwing also refused to ensure that during operations, a minimum ratio of 90 percent Bahamian and 10 percent non-Bahamian [would be maintained]. We have more than enough qualified Bahamians to successfully operate and manage a hotel.”

He also said the government did not agree to Sunwing’s demand to be exempted from any local advertising requirements or payment of work permit fees.

“The government could not compromise on this important point which informs locals on what jobs are available before it can be offered to non-Bahamians,” he said.

“Sunwing also refused to agree to employ Bahamian tennis and golf professionals if they were available.”

Massey said Sunwing “has invested the last six years and tens of millions of its own money in the revitalization of Grand Bahama island”.

She said it is unfortunate that the island’s tourism would now go “backwards to its lowest levels in decades”.

In his statement yesterday, Thompson said the question of airlift for Grand Bahama is presently being addressed.

“Sunwing’s predictions should also be rejected as they are well aware that any deal to purchase the hotel includes an airlift component which would successfully replace Sunwing,” he said.

“The government’s discussions with all potential purchasers includes airlift support. We would not sell the hotel without adequate airlift and no one would buy it unless we agreed [to an] airlift plan.

“The Ministry of Tourism has also been clear that they are executing their marketing strategy and they are using Bahamasair to create packages for the hotel.

“In addition, Bahamas Paradise Cruises are also working on a package for the hotel. Grand Bahama can rest assured that the Minnis administration will continue to not just talk about fixing Grand Bahama, but as we demonstrated with the purchase of the hotel, we will deliver for Grand Bahama.”

The government recently purchased the Grand Lucayan for $65 million after the deal with Wynn fell through.

The government has said it hopes to find a buyer for the property within a few months.

Jasper Ward

Staff Reporter at The Nassau Guardian
Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues.
Education: Goldsmith, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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