No Storm Impact At Baha Mar

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Work on Baha Mar's $2.6 billion Cable Beach project restarted on Friday after suffering a 48-hour delay due to Hurricane Irene's passage, a senior executive with the resort developer/owner adding that from that evening onwards visitors would be "hard pressed to think" the storm hit the area.

Describing Hurricane Irene as having had "no impact at all" on the construction project, Robert Sands, Baha Mar's senior vice-president of external and government affairs, told Tribune Business: "We were totally prepared.

"The only damage to the project was to the landscaping that went in. There was no damage to property, equipment and the project compound. The only real damage we had was downed trees in terms of new landscaping unable to catch root at this time. We are very, very happy. Our delay on the project may have been 48 hours, and we are back to work today."

Some 600 rooms at Baha Mar's existing Sheraton and Wyndham resorts were occupied by guests and locals riding out the storm, and Mr Sands said both properties were back to full operations by Friday. The Crystal Palace casino re-opened at 4pm on the same day.

"All amenities are operational," Mr Sands confirmed. "We had some clean-up, due mainly to landscaping issues. Certainly, by the end of Friday, if you were to visit the destination, certainly Cable Beach, you'd be hard-pressed to think Irene visited.

"All in all, we've been very fortunate, and it was a very good result. We're not seeing any major or immediate cancellations at the moment."

However, Mr Sands said Baha Mar, like the rest of the industry, was closely watching Hurricane Irene's progress up the US east coast, and its impact on the major populations there.

Many of the impacted cities, such as New York, Boston, Baltimore, Charlotte and Washington represent the core markets from which the Bahamian tourism industry draws much of its visitors, and with 8,300 flights to and from those cities cancelled at the weekend, accessing this nation - for both tourist arrivals and departures - was impacted.

With near-term bookings facing a potential negative impact, Mr Sands said: "The concern has less to do with Irene, but more to do with where Irene's going, and that's a situation we're going to have to monitor.

"This is something we have to monitor very, very carefully, and begin to strategise on, especially given that areas like New York City, Charlotte, are the main hubs coming out of the north-east. That's where the majority of our airlift comes from.

"We have to be very vigilant and monitor this extremely carefully, and then begin to think about putting in place possible alternative routes. The airlines will be doing similar thinking, re-routing people."

It appears that Irene's impact on the core US east coast tourism markets has been less than predicted, although it is unclear how quickly those cities and their airports will get operations back to normal. There is still likely to be some minor disruption to the Bahamian tourism industry in terms of accessibility.

To ensure the market knew Bahamian tourism remained open for business, and that the major resort properties on New Providence had not been affected by Irene, Mr Sands said the Ministry of Tourism and Bahamas Hotel Association (BHA) had jointly been issuing regular updates. Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, had played a pivotal 24-hour role in this effort.

"We have not been negligent in terms of not paying attention to this," Mr Sands said, adding that it was important for the Bahamian tourism industry to

prepare for this coming weekend's US Labour Day holiday.

"We've been very proactive in keeping the marketplace aware and up-to-date, particularly as the international media paint the Bahamas as one geographical area rather than individual islands. Social media was helpful in getting the word out to all, not just people coming to the Bahamas, but those considering coming to the Bahamas.

"One of the most important vacation days in the US is Labour Day a week Monday, so it's important the Bahamas is ready to receive those guests this coming weekend."

Mr Sands, meanwhile, praised the performance of the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC), the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) and Cable Bahamas' services during Hurricane Irene.

Baha Mar's resorts, he said, had power for 95 per cent of the storm's duration, BEC quickly restoring it when it was knocked out. BTC and Cable Bahamas maintained service without interruption.

Source: The Tribune