IAG April 2014 - page 4

April 2014
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he largest gaming resort under contruction in theWesternHemisphere is slated toopen in the
Bahamas theendof this year. It’sChinesemoneypaying for it andChinese laborbuilding it, and
it will rely heavily onChinese gamblers to fill it.
TheUS$3.5billionBahaMar, thebrainchildof Bahamianentrepreneur Sarkis Izmirlian,will tower
25 storiesover sun-kissed sandson themain islandofNewProvidence, not far from the capital ofNassau
andwithin sight of the 3,400-roomAtlantis resort complex just across thewater onParadise Island. It will
covermore thanhalf amile of beachfront and encompass 1,000 acres in all, where it will bring together
hotels run by Grand Hyatt, Mondrian, Rosewood and Meliá. There will be 30 restaurants and bars, a
performing arts center, a 30,000-square-foot ESPA spa, a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus and
200,000 square feet of convention andmeeting space.
Thecenterpiecewillbethe1,000-roomBahaMarCasino&Hotel,morespecifically, its100,000-square-
foot gaming floor, whichwill feature 1,500machine games and 150 live tables run byWilliamWeidner’s
Global GamingAssetManagement.
“A lot of focus will be on the gaming aspect,” says Robert Sands, a senior vice president withMr
Izmirlian’s BahaMar Resorts Ltd— and it’s a sizable unknown, though one the Export-Import Bank of
China iswilling to risk; they’re providing the bulk of the financing, $2.4billion. China StateConstruction
Engineering Corp., the country’s largest construction company, is investing $150 million and is the
general contractor. Thousands of Chineseworkers are employed at the site.
Theirs isnot thefirst investment in theCaribbean’spotentialasan internationalgamblingdestination,
but it is far and away the largest tobeundertaken in a singlego. It’sunique, too, in that it plans to target
theChinamarket. This isChinese investment chasingChinese tourismoutsideof China. In that respect,
too, it is unprecedented.
It’s also not amarket where the Bahamas has been strong ever. Nearly 80% of visitors come from
the United States. EvenGenting, which has enjoyed considerable success rowing against the historical
West-to-East tide of gaming investment, has been careful out on thewesternmost edge of the islands to
point itsResortsWorldBimini in that direction,mainly to the close-in southFloridamarket and the large
population aroundMiami.
On theother hand, the last few yearshave seenChinesemoneypouring into thispart of theworld to
a degree that it now figures prominently in its economic future. China pledgedUS$1 billion in loans for
development in theCaribbean in 2011 alone—not includingBahaMar—and its investment in the larger
Latin American region is now believed by some sources to top $89 billion. BahaMar represents about
2.5%of that total. It’s abignumber.
Certainly the Bahamians and their government see it that way. Some $600million worth of Baha
Mar’s contracts have been set aside for bids by local companies and 2,600 residents areworkingon the
contruction. London-based Oxford Economics says the project accounted for 5% of the islands’ gross
domestic product in both 2011 and 2012 and forecasts that once the resort is operational it will account
for almost 13%. It will provide some 8,000permanent jobs at that point, and that’s another bignumber
for anationwhereunemployment runs in excess of 16%.
“It’s called transformation,” saysMr Sands.
“BahaMar is expected to generate literally billions of dollars in economic benefits,” says his boss,
the gutsy 40-year-old whose family businesses extend to commodities trading, manufacturing, real
estate and investments in the publicmarkets. “This creates real opportunities for Bahamians,” saysMr
Izmirllian—“jobs, training, entrepreneurship and economicmobility.”
Realizing them will depend in no small measure on expanding air links, and the country recently
completed a$400million renovation and expansionof its international airport.
“That helps a lot,” says Scott Brush, a hospitality industry consultant. “A lot depends on people’s
ability toget there.”
TheBahamasTourismMinistry also is courting visitors fromBrazil andRussia andhopes tobe able
toannounceadditional airlift fromsomeof thesemarketsby Juneor July,whichhappens tobearound the
timeGentingwill openResortsWorldBimini’s first hotel, a luxury offering featuring 325 rooms.
A lot, of course, also depends on howwell BahaMar canmarket, whether they can convince Asian
travelers “thedestination isworth the trip,” asMr Brushput it.
To that end the company has opened a business development office in Hong Kong and plans
also to reach out to wealthy Asians living in North America (and Europeans and Latin Americans).
The government has committed $20million tomarketing the resort next year. In January, it sealed an
agreement with Beijing allowing mainland Chinese residents visa-free access for up to 30 days. Last
month, TourismMinisterObediahWilchcombe traveled toChina tobeat thedrumpersonally.
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