Update: In the Bahamas, a Long-Awaited Opening for Baha Mar Resort
Construction did not begin until early 2011 and was funded through a $2.45 billion loan from the Export-Import Bank of China, along with an $850 million investment from Baha Mar and a $150 million investment from the contractor, China Construction America.
A scheduled opening in May 2015 never happened. With the project more than 90 percent complete, Baha Mar declared bankruptcy, saying that China Construction America had repeatedly delayed the venture by missing construction deadlines. The construction company issued its own accusations of mismanagement, and a bitter fight ensued.
Around 2,000 employees, most of them Bahamians who had been wooed to the resort with promises of bright futures, were out of jobs. Baha Mar was at a standstill.
Its revival happened last November, when the Hong Kong-based conglomerate Chow Tai Fook Enterprises signed an agreement to buy the resort from the Export-Import Bank of China for an undisclosed sum. Chow Tai Fook is involved in several businesses, including jewelry stores in Asia and casinos in Macau, and was already familiar with Baha Mar because it owns Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, a brand that was set to be one of the project’s hotel operators before the bankruptcy filing.
The company is able to open Baha Mar so soon after agreeing to buy it, Mr. Davis said, because the Export-Import Bank had invested $700 million to finish building the resort over the last 18 months. “What we bought is a property that was nearly complete,” he said.
For travel agents, the April 21 opening does not come without skepticism. Bobby Zur, who owns Travel Artistry, a consultancy in Franklin Lakes, N.J., and is on the hotel committee for the travel network Virtuoso, said that he was apprehensive about soft openings in general, particularly when it came to large-scale resorts, but that Baha Mar had added challenges for the long-term. “Creating a resort destination that has within it different levels of luxury and an appeal to disparate demographics can be done but isn’t always easy to accomplish,” he said.
But Mr. Zur said he was optimistic about the resort because Rosewood was involved. “Rosewood is a brand that’s very protective of its guests and who it partners with, so I feel more confident that the project will come out of the gates faster and more smoothly than it would have otherwise,” he said.
Dan Marmontello, the Caribbean product manager for CheapCaribbean.com, a site that sells affordable Caribbean and Mexico trips, will be staying at Baha Mar later this month as an invited guest. He said that he planned to sell the resort only if he thought that, after seeing it firsthand, it was ready to receive paying guests.
“It doesn’t matter that not everything is up and running,” he said, “but we need to make sure that there are enough amenities available so that our clients can go and have a good time there.”
Baha Mar is one of the largest resorts to open in North America, according to Zachary Sears, a senior economist at Tourism Economics, which is part of the research firm Oxford Economics.
The resort has 1,500 employees — many of whom had been laid off during the bankruptcy — but when all the hotels are open, the plan is to have 5,500. According to estimates from a 2013 report from Oxford Economics, Baha Mar could contribute around 12 percent to the gross domestic product of the Bahamas once the resort is complete and operating.
Touches intended to be over the top are a trademark of mega resorts, and Baha Mar is no exception.
Golfers, for example, can choose to rent one of more than 100 sets of top-of-the line clubs, including handmade Itobori clubs from Japan, which retail for $8,000, according to Sean Cracraft, the director of golf at the resort’s Royal Blue Golf Club.
Restaurants include an English pub with 24 beers on tap; the opulent, red-hued Shuang Ba, where top chefs from China will visit and cook; a beachside conch shack; and Katsuya, an upscale sushi chain that started in the Los Angeles area.
A big attraction may be the six-minute nightly show at the fountains and lakes where water, illuminated with multicolored lasers, shoots 110 feet into the air, and a video with Bahamian dancers performing to high-energy tribal music is projected against cascading walls of water.
Mr. Davis said that much of Baha Mar’s appeal was expected to come from its emphasis on Bahamian culture and the local environment. “Yes, we’re about the sun and the sand, but we want to give people a richer experience than you get on the typical beach vacation,” he said.
The children’s activities, for example, include visits to the property’s aviary to learn about indigenous hummingbirds and butterflies and classes on Bahamian crafts such as basket weaving.
Bahamian art is another focus: The property will display 8,500 pieces — a mix of paintings, sculptures, ceramics and photographs — by both established and emerging contemporary artists from the islands. There is a studio where artists-in-residence will work and teach classes. “There’s not a lot of global awareness about Bahamian art or Caribbean art in general, but we’re hoping that the resort will be a platform to change that,” said John Cox, Baha Mar’s creative arts director.
Delayed hotel openings are common, but Baha Mar’s trajectory is unusually long, said Reneta McCarthy, a senior lecturer at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University who is familiar with the resort and its history. “There’s been a lot of buzz about this project and drama surrounding it for years,” she said. “ It’s an ambitious venture, and all eyes will be on it to see how it fares.”
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