Last updated: 10:49 AM ET, Thu July 30 2015

Tourism and Travel Stakeholders Pray For Baha Mar Success

Hotel & Resort | Brian Major | May 21, 2015

Tourism and Travel Stakeholders Pray For Baha Mar Success

Photo: There is no opening date set for the $3.5 billion Baha Mar resort.(Courtesy of Baha Mar)

Even as its construction nears completion, the $3.5 billion Baha Mar mega-resort project this week enters a critical stage. Now five months beyond the original launch date, it remains unclear when exactly the resort will open.

What is certain is that groups ranging from leisure vacationers to hotel companies, tourism officials, Bahamas-based sub-contractors and resort workers are eagerly awaiting a resolution.

On Thursday Perry Christie, the Bahamas’ prime minister, told the Bahamas Tribune that he planned to meet that day with “relevant officials” to resolve the disputes that have pushed the project’s opening far beyond the original December 2014 launch.

The Baha Mar project is widely viewed as key to the Bahamas’ economic and tourism future. Government officials have said the mega-resort’s operations are expected to contribute 12.8 percent of the Bahamas’ annual gross domestic product in its first full year.

Yet a multitude of issues have led to crippling delays. They include allegations of delayed or inadequate payments made to China Construction America (CCA), the project’s contractor; reports of work slow-downs tied to the disputed payments; and charges from Baha Mar CEO Sarkis Izmirlian that government missteps have hurt the project.

Yet another issue arose early this year when Superclubs, which owns land within the construction zone, claimed Baha Mar officials breached an agreement involving a transfer of the property. According to press reports Superclubs is now attempting to win a court injunction that will force Baha Mar to halt construction.

Behind those disputes are hundreds of disgruntled travelers who had booked Baha Mar resort vacations for early 2015 only to see their dreams scuttled as delays twice obliterated the promised opening dates.

Workers at Bahamas-based sub-contractors hired for the project have even complained in local media of delayed salaries. An electrician employed though the Yates Osprey Corp. told the Nassau Guardian that “over 100 or so guys, just electricians alone,” haven’t been paid in weeks.

Looming over this contentious landscape is China’s government, whose Import-Export Bank financed the project through a $2.5-billion loan. Izmirlian’s group has arranged the additional $850 million to bankroll the project.

Despite these hurdles, the developer insists Baha Mar will be completed and an opening dated announced soon following recent discussions between Baha Mar and China Construction officials. The Chinese ambassador reportedly attended the meetings.

"Significant progress is being made towards an agreement that will result in the near-term completion of construction of the development,” said a Baha Mar statement issued last week.

Those assurances haven’t quelled the angry comments from disgruntled travelers whose vacation plans went awry as the delays commenced.

“It'd be nice if your reservations department would call us back to figure out our compensation since Expedia is basically claiming they had no clue the hotel wouldn't be opened for our April 17 to 21 trip,” says Alex Critch in a message on the Baha Mar Facebook page. “They are not refunding us.”

Baha Mar advised Critch, “We have forwarded your information to the team and will have someone reach out as soon as possible.”

An official working with SLS Lux, one of the resort’s partner hotels, said that hotel’s team “has called every person personally to either re-book them at a later date, or rebook them at another SLS property or at another hotel in the Bahamas.”

The official, who requested anonymity, said the re-bookings have “cost [SLS] money,” and added, “They have also refunded partial cost of flights, as flights can no longer be cancelled,” meaning SLS has paid change fees and fare differences on re-booked tickets.

The other Baha Mar properties, which include the Baha Mar Casino & Hotel, the Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar and Rosewood at Baha Mar have presumably been compelled to re-book guests as well.

Yet despite the intense atmosphere surrounding the project, longtime hotel industry observers agree it is not unusual for a major resort project to miss its original completion deadline.

“If there is anything I have learned over the years, it is to not book groups to resorts within four months of their opening,” said Jennifer Doncsecz, president of VIP Vacations, a major Caribbean vacation retailer and consultant. “Even with this, we have been burned in the past.” 

Christie said he “fervently hopes” the parties can reach an agreement that will allow operators to announce an opening date for the property. Local religious leaders this week went beyond hope and turned to divine intervention.

Bishop Simeon Hall and Rev. Philip McPhee told the Bahamas Tribune they are praying for the “successful completion” of Baha Mar due to the large number of workers depending on the project for employment. “We wish to go on record as praying for Baha Mar’s successful opening,” the clergymen said in a statement. 

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