Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar yesterday fired back at Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Brave Davis for making an “irresponsible” promise to cancel a lease for Crown land on Paradise Island that the government is negotiating with Royal Caribbean International (RCI), noting that the project will be “enormously impactful” for The Bahamas.
“The comments by the leader of the opposition that he will cancel any lease entered into by the government of The Bahamas and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) are incredulous and irresponsible given that he is vying for the post of prime minister, a position I sincerely hope, for the sake of the country, he never achieves,” D’Aguilar told The Nassau Guardian.
He added, “The leader of the opposition should also really think and get the facts and the thought process behind the government’s decision before he spouts off from the mouth. This government is into responsible management of our economy in the best interests of all Bahamians and not just a select few of cronies and supporters.”
RCI signed a heads of agreement (HOA) with the government to purchase the Grand Lucayan on Grand Bahama last week.
That agreement has not yet been made public.
RCI President Michael Bayley, while on Grand Bahama, confirmed that his company is planning a $50 million attraction called the Royal Beach Club, which is slated to open in late 2022.
A critical component of the attraction would be beachfront property at Colonial Beach, of which the government owns about 17 acres.
RCI is said to be eyeing leasing 10 acres of the land.
The Guardian understands the government is moving forward with the lease. It is expected to be finalized by the Office of the Prime Minister in the coming weeks.
An accommodation with Bahamian proprietor Toby Smith to lease a parcel of land at Colonial Beach next to RCI’s development is still being worked out.
On Sunday, Davis said that the Paradise Island deal would “set back Bahamian industries and block Bahamians from the enjoyment of asset use and value in what little is available for ordinary Bahamians”.
“This is grossly unfair to Bahamians and the next PLP government will terminate this agreement,” Davis said.
“There are many compelling reasons to support our position. First and foremost, any project of this type should be owned and operated by Bahamians, fully utilizing Bahamian entrepreneurs, vendors, artists, entertainers, retailers, tour guides, water taxis, etc.
“Secondly, no non-Bahamian entity should receive preferential consideration over the many Bahamian applicants who have attempted to procure this property. Thirdly, all attempts to purchase this property in the past have been denied for reasons overwhelmingly in the public interest.”
However, D’Aguilar yesterday defended the government’s deal with RCCL.
He said the government believes the project on Paradise Island “will be enormously impactful”.
“Not only will it bring more passengers to Nassau, but it will create hundreds of jobs for Bahamians and create new businesses for Bahamian entrepreneurs — with the help of the Small Business Development Centre — ferrying the passengers over to P.I., not to mention all the retail, arts and crafts, music, water sports and other excursion type activities and the food and beverage outlets that will be owned and operated by Bahamians in the attraction,” the minister said.
“Most importantly, not only will it attract more cruise ships to Nassau, but it will also attract more people off the cruise ship. If you have been on a RCCL ship as of late, you will note that they are clean, safe, new and full of amenities that entice you not to come ashore and so, more and more people are staying on board.
“This attraction on Paradise Island will entice more of their passengers off the ship to walk down Woodes Rogers Wharf, hopefully shopping either on the way to the ferry or on the way back to the ship, and giving them a hundred more reasons to spend more money in the destination.”
Government officials have cited the need for ensuring Nassau remains an attractive destination for cruise ships given the expansion of private island destinations as one of the reasons for moving forward.
There is also concern by tourism officials that more attractions are needed to entice customers off the cruise ships.
The government is reported to be structuring the agreement for the Paradise Island destination with a view to maintaining Bahamian ownership of ferries to the attraction and water sports at the location.
“Royal Caribbean has purchased — from private individuals — over $50 million worth of land on the western end of Paradise Island,” D’Aguilar said.
“They now seek to invest another $50 million, making a total investment of $100 million, to build a world-class beach attraction on the western end of Paradise Island. They have requested from the government of The Bahamas a lease for a portion of Colonial Beach to facilitate this project and, of course, if the Bahamian government is going to contemplate such an undertaking, it is going to do so with ordinary Bahamian workers and entrepreneurs uppermost in their minds; the primary goal being to ensure that as many Bahamians as possible reap the benefits of this investment and not just a select few.”
He noted that the company is a “substantial” foreign investor in The Bahamas that creates thousands of direct and indirect jobs locally.
“There is no question that RCCL’s impact on the economy of The Bahamas is huge and the leader of the opposition should not make comments that discourage their investment for the simple reason to score cheap political points,” D’Aguilar said.