Five years ago today, Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar on Cable Beach formally opened, signaling a new era in tourism for The Bahamas and providing much-needed employment and economic opportunities for thousands of Bahamians.
This was followed a few months later by the opening of Baha Mar’s SLS and the following year, the luxurious Rosewood.
The start of operations on April 21, 2017 came amid a heightened political environment, just over two weeks ahead of the general election that resulted in the election of the Minnis-led Free National Movement (FNM).
It had been a long and troubled path for the property since its original developer broke ground in 2011. The 2015 bankruptcy filing, which brought the mega project to a halt, had been a significant development.
The political sparring that ensued included efforts to demonize the property’s new Chinese owners, with then-FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis pledging ahead of the 2017 election to execute a “real sale” of Baha Mar, stoking fears along the way.
Even after Grand Hyatt opened, Minnis had declared it to be a “fake opening”.
But upon assuming office, he praised Baha Mar’s owners for what was developed and repeatedly highlighted the property’s importance to the Bahamian economy.
Its impact is not insignificant.
Speaking to The Nassau Guardian yesterday, Baha Mar President Graeme Davis said, “It truly goes back to the fulfillment of a promise and that is to create the employment opportunities that we have here in the country, in The Bahamas, creating over 5,000 jobs and contributing to almost 12 percent of GDP for the country, as well as reshaping the tourism product in The Bahamas…”
Davis said 98 percent of employees are Bahamian. The property offers substantial benefits, including medical and pension.
In 2020, the property was shut down for nine months, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which impacted hotel properties across the region, and indeed the world.
The resort emerged from the near-daunting challenges of having no business as the country’s border remained closed and key markets grappled to bring the pandemic under control.
Importantly, Baha Mar has been a national partner in the fight against COVID-19, offering facilities and volunteers to drive vaccination rates, and it introduced the Travel With Confidence program.
Last year, with the COVID-19 challenges persisting, Baha Mar opened its $200 million Baha Bay water park. Minnis, at the time prime minister, remarked that this was a sign that The Bahamas was coming back stronger than ever.
At 100,000 square feet, Baha Mar’s casino is the largest in the region. Over the last five years, the property has opened a series of world-class restaurants, and has constantly added and upgraded other amenities as it attracted high-profile groups and other travelers to a first-class destination.
There is always an important project or two going on as property executives seek to constantly improve guest experiences.
Baha Mar has also been good for the Bahamian art community. The property has one of the largest assemblies of Bahamian art in one place.
The Baha Mar Foundation supports many initiatives in the country through its three pillars of culture, conservation and community.
While there had been initial fears that the multi-billion-dollar development would result in cannibalization in the tourism industry, competing directly with the Atlantis resort, both properties have been able to hold their own, even in the most difficult of circumstances, and have been important drivers of economic activity.
Though he was voted out of office in 2017, former Prime Minister Perry Christie is credited with having an unwavering vision for Cable Beach that ultimately materialized.
The vision of the original developer, Sarkis Izmirlian, also got the project to an important point. But it was the eventual sale to Hong Kong-based conglomerate Chow Tai Fook Enterprises Ltd. that led to the project’s completion and the long anticipated opening day.
No longer the political football it was in 2017 and prior, Baha Mar’s presence is welcomed and respected by political leaders, both past and present, and many other Bahamians, who benefit directly or indirectly from the property.
Baha Mar’s economic contributions and community improvement efforts deserve commendation as the property’s owners, executives and associates observe today’s milestone.
Without a doubt, Baha Mar has proven over these last five years that it has been good for The Bahamas.