Baha Mar, the Chinese-financed US$3.5 billion Caribbean super-resort, will begin accepting guests on 27th March.
In announcing the date, the Bahamas’ newest and most anticipated destination in years has signaled the end of repeated delays—it was supposed to open in mid-December—and will cap the soft opening with a grand unveiling in May.
“They will miss the high season, but they will spend the time making sure everything will be in place for the next high season,” Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe told the Miami Herald. “We feel we will do well in terms of arrivals for Baha Mar and expect high occupancy rates and high room rates.”
Robert Sands, a senior vice president for Baha Mar Ltd, declined to comment on the delays other than to say the project is “quite complex” and Baha Mar wants to be sure it can “offer the complete luxury product” when it opens, especially as the project will be wooing guests from around the world — from North Americans, who are expected to account for the biggest market share, to Latin Americans and Chinese high rollers.
In regard to the latter, Baha Mar is emblematic of a growing relationship between the small island nation with a population of about 380,000 and the most populous country in the world. China State Construction Engineering Corp., the project’s main contractor, holds a $150 million equity stake. The Export-Import Bank of China financed $2.4 billion of the cost. More than 4,000 Chinese workers have been employed at the site.
The brainchild of Bahamas entrepreneur Sarkis Izmirlian, the 1,000-acre resort is located at Nassau’s popular Cable Beach. It will comprise four hotels initially—a 700-room Grand Hyatt, a 300-room SLX LUX, a 200-room Rosewood, the flagship Baha Mar Casino & Hotel, with 1,000 rooms—and 284 private residences. A fifth hotel, the nearby Meliá Nassau Beach, will be added as the rebranded Meliá at Baha Mar following completion of $19 million of renovations.
Plans for the 100,000-square-foot casino, to be run by William Weidner’s Global Gaming Asset Management, call for 1,500 machine games and 150 live tables. Updated regulations also will allow Internet and mobile gambling and in-play sports and proxy betting to be part of the mix.
“Our state-of-the-art casino will match what you would find in Las Vegas, Macau or Singapore,” Mr Sands said.
Non-gaming attractions will include 50 restaurants, bars and lounges, retail shopping, 20 acres of beaches and pools, a beachfront nature sanctuary, art galleries, a performing arts center, a 30,000-square-foot ESPA spa, a championship golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus and 200,000 square feet of convention and meeting space.
VIPs, not surprisingly, figure prominently in the marketing strategy, and tens of millions are being spent to get the word out in key US cities and beyond. An agreement signed by the PRC and the Bahamas last year allows visa-free travel from China for up to a month, and Mr Sands said, “We will be focusing a lot of efforts in China.” High-net-worth Chinese in cities such as Vancouver, London and Toronto are also in Baha Mar’s sights, he said, and projects under discussion include a mutual air services agreement between Air China and Bahamian airlines.
“We’re confident there will be sufficient airlift to meet our goals,” he said, noting that JetBlue has added a Los Angeles-Fort Lauderdale flight that will help with the Asian market, while Air Canada plans to increase capacity to the Bahamas starting in March.
It will help also that the island nation’s ties with China continue to deepen.
A Bahamian delegation recently met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and business executives from Beijing and Shanghai, and collaborations reported to be in the works include an indoor stadium and an agreement on technical and marine research cooperation.
In October, China State Construction Engineering agreed to purchase the landmark British Colonial Hilton Nassau Hotel in the center of the Bahamian capital and redevelop it and an adjacent property into a luxury hotel and condominium complex with a roof-top garden, high-end shops and restaurants, a movie theater and nightclub and a marina.
The Bahamas, whose economy is almost entirely dependent on tourism, is more than happy to draw closer to its big new friend.
“They’re investing everywhere,” Mr Wilchcombe said. ‘The truth is they have the wherewithal to do it.”