Last updated: 07:00 AM ET, Tue January 12 2016

Caribbean Insights: Looking Ahead at 2016's Hot Spots

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | January 12, 2016

Caribbean Insights: Looking Ahead at 2016's Hot Spots

The Caribbean is rightfully regarded as a pretty low-key place. The region’s sun-filled skies, beautiful blue waters and lush plant life create a relaxed atmosphere for visitors and residents alike, offering an ideal stress antidote.

However tourism stakeholders in several top Caribbean travel destinations will face some tense moments in 2016 as they await the outcome of impasses that threaten to derail projects that – one way or another – will profoundly impact each nation’s tourism business. Issues surrounding these three regional destinations will bear watching throughout 2016:

Antiguan Anguish

All seemed well this past summer when Gaston Browne, Antigua & Barbuda’s prime minister, announced a partnership with Academy Award-winning actor Robert DeNiro to erect a $250 million resort on the site of Barbuda’s former K Club, which once hosted celebrities including Princess Diana but has been shuttered since 2004.

DeNiro and Australian investor James Packer had hoped to begin construction on the resort, to be called Paradise Found, this year. Last March Antigua voters narrowly approved a referendum on the development. And in December, legislators on the dual-island nation passed a bill to provide the developers with a government lease of the site’s 391 acres and incentives including a 25-year tax abatement.

Yet construction has yet to launch as some local politicians complain the December bill nullifies the elected Barbuda Council’s right to evaluate and approve large-scale property deals on the island. In addition the March referendum is now facing a legal challenge from the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM), which claims the result was illegitimate because non-Barbudans were allowed to vote.

“What the government is doing is wrong,” said Harold Lovell, a local senator and member of Antigua & Barbuda’s United Progressive Party. “We are being asked to trample on an act that enshrines the rights of the people of Barbuda to hold land in common and have a say in terms of any major developments.”

Meanwhile Browne has said work on the development, part of an aggressive expansion of tourism-related infrastructure that included of a new airport terminal in 2015, will resume this year and he expects the project will be completed “by the latest June of next year.”

Bewildering Baha Mar

Despite the Export-Import Bank of China (CEXIM)’s Dec. 17 announcement of a preliminary plan for the “future arrangements” of the yet-to-launch $3.5 billion Baha Mar resort, it’s anyone’s guess as to when the stalled project will actually begin operations.

CEXIM’s statement says the Baha Mar financier “has been actively working with relevant stakeholders to seek proper resolution of the issues that the project is facing, and has been maintaining close communication and contact with the Government of the Bahamas.” A preliminary plan regarding the “future arrangements” for the resort “will be launched as soon as practicable” and the bank has been in contact with “a number of potential investors and they have expressed initial interest in the project.”

Yet with the stalled mega-resort now more than a year beyond its original opening date and the Bahamas Supreme Court not scheduled to hold a potential liquidation hearing until February, the project’s fate remains unclear.

In an online poll of its readers published Monday, the Bahamas Tribune said 62 percent believe Baha Mar will not open “in the near future” while only 10 percent believe the mega-resort will launch at any time in 2016.

Belated Belize Beginning?

Norwegian Cruise Line’s $100 million Harvest Caye cruise port project was one of the most-watched in years among tourism stakeholders as it promised to accelerate the once-sleepy nation’s emergence as a mainstream Caribbean travel destination.

Located on two adjoining islands off the small but increasingly popular coastal town of Placencia, plans for the 75-acre development include a floating pier, an island village with open-air structures, a marina, a water sports lagoon and a beach area. Norwegian will also offer passengers several Belize excursions from Harvest Caye.

However a local tourism official has warned the port may not meet a planned Feb. 16 opening. Harvest Caye’s opening “will be delayed,” said Valdemar Andrade, director, destination planning and cruise at the Belize Tourism Board (BTB), in an interview on the website.

Andrade said Norwegian officials “have informed me that they will have a press release soon to know the exact timing of what that will be.” Norwegian officials did not provide a reason for the delay, he said.

A Norwegian spokeswoman would not confirm or deny the report but last week told that details would be issued after the company first informs its customers and travel partners.

Since its original announcement of the project however Norwegian has failed to issue any progress reports on the development. Indeed an earlier report described Harvest Caye as “shrouded in mystery.”

Still Andrade said “From our perspective it is coming along well and we are now expecting what date the southern cruise port will be open.” Industry watchers are also standing by for the much-anticipated project’s launch date.

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