Jobs joy as Reef Village reopens
Freeport News Reporter
The 503 room Reef Village that was closed in March 2011 will be reopened as a five star resort that will be leased and operated by Blue Diamond Hotels and Resort, an affiliate of Sunwing Travel Group, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced yesterday.
A partnership between the Government, Hutchison Whampoa and Sunwing Travel Group, one of the largest travel conglomerates in Canada is expected to spur the revitalization of the island's struggling economy.
"The Sunwing group brings to Freeport a product that is lacking and in demand in the marketplace. In addition to being successful hoteliers, Sunwing combines as a major tour operator and airlift provider, meeting the essential requirements for the success of Grand Bahama tourism," the prime minister said.
Christie said the venture would create 1,000 permanent jobs and hundreds of additional jobs in the construction field.
Christie also noted that additional airlift will be brought to the island by Sunwing, which owns and operates a fleet of 737-800 airplanes that will fly to Grand Bahama from several Canadian cities.
He said in addition to marketing the Reef Village, they will also market other participating hotels on the island.
The prime minister said Sunwing through its affiliate Vacation Express USA Corporation - will work with the Ministry of Tourism and the Grand Bahama Island Promotion Board and participating hotels to restructure, support and turn the failing summer airlift program into a success and at the same time relieve the Ministry of Tourism of the current hefty financial liabilities.
In addition, Christie said Sunwing will facilitate and encourage its shareholder TUI Travel, the largest travel company in the world to consider proposals to include the island in its destinations in addition to including flights that operate from Europe to Freeport.
"The government through the Ministry of Tourism will incentivize the foregoing arrangements and provide financial support to Sunwing and Hutchison will also benefit other hotels, the tourism sector and the economy of Grand Bahama," Christie said.
The prime minister also noted that Hutchison with its airport and port facilities would provide discounts to Sunwing to support its flight and hotel operations that will be beneficial to local tourism.
"As demand warrants, Hutchison plans to further invest in the renovation and conversion of its closed 192 room Lighthouse Point property," he said.
The prime minister said the Government wants Hutchison to proceed forward with a renewed sense of confidence in its partnership with his Government and to work to bring about an environment where it will have the confidence to move forward with reopening the facility.
Christie also noted that the Government will enter into an arrangement with the Grand Bahama Airport Company to take over the employment of air traffic controllers and air traffic control at the Freeport International Airport effective July 1, 2013.
He also added that plans are underway to strengthen the local casino, noting that Treasure Bay will operate the casino until January 2013, after which time a replacement operator will take over and manage a smaller, refurbished and more exciting casino.
"Two new specialty restaurants and a wedding center will surround the gaming area. It tends to be a new tourism offering that Sunwing will put in place in partnering with the new casino operator," Christie said.
He said the Grand Lucayan and Sunwing will work together and become major players in a revitalized Grand Bahama Island Promotion Board.
"It is so necessary to be able to recapture the spirit where all hotel properties and all stakeholders in the tourism industry are able to take this integrated and coordinated approach to delivering these new services and this new feeling that ought to exist in Grand Bahama," he said.
The prime minister said all of the initiatives will be carried out with less annual public expenditure than was used by the former administration.
"I warmly welcome Sunwing Travel Group to Freeport and express our gratitude to them for the confidence which they are manifesting in investing in and allocating so much of their resources to this destination," he said.
Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe, also shared that the Government is in negotiations with several airlines and has expectations of imminent startup of new airlift to the island.
"In addition to that, we are in talks with the Latin American market and with a Latin American Group that will begin business to Grand Bahama before the end of this year," he said.
Wilchcombe added that Grand Bahama will become the Ministry of Tourism's digital platform location, the call center would be located on the island and most of the business would be done on Grand Bahama.
"We are making a paradigm shift because we are of the view that Grand Bahama can in fact become - with a single company leading the way it can become an IT center for the entire Caribbean," he said.
Sunwing's vice president of sales and marketing Daryl McWilliams said Sunwing will bring its expertise in the airline business, tourism, hotel and tour operator expertise from Canada and the U.S.
"We have a very aggressive entrepreneurial company, we are familiar with the type challenges that you face here and to be honest with you, we feel that given the right circumstances, given the right economic opportunities, the right people working to rejuvenate the tourism on Grand Bahama it will allow the Bahamian spirit to flourish, the Bahamian people to step forward and to recreate some of the glories in the past that tourism has enjoyed here," he said.
© 2012 The Freeport News