Boats in the harbor, Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama Island. (Larry Luxner)
Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International Airport has officially opened its new terminal for domestic flights and international departures, marking the completion of a four-year, $409 million redevelopment of the largest airport in the Bahamas.
LPIA, measuring 606,000 square feet, will be able to accommodate more than five million passengers a year — 50 percent more than before. They will enjoy 24 retail locations and 16 restaurants, bars and lounges.
Outside, an additional one million square feet of aircraft operating surface has the capacity for A380 jumbo jets and other large aircraft. Officials of the Nassau Airport Development Co. (NAD) designed the new airport with 10 aircraft bridges and 30 aircraft ground loading positions that can handle up to 12 U.S. jets simultaneously.
The country is also getting one of the world’s largest hotels.
On Nov. 19, the owners of Baha Mar announced that Spain’s Meliá Hotels International would operate the all-inclusive $3.5 billion resort. The luxury project, which encompasses 1,000 acres including 3,000 feet of oceanfront, is 12 minutes from Nassau International Airport. The new destination will offer more than 2,900 hotel rooms and luxury residences. Amenities include the 100,000-square-foot casino, an 18-hole, 72-par Jack Nicklaus golf course and more than a dozen pools. A convention center will provide 200,000 square feet for meeting facilities.
But despite this influx of investment, Bahamian officials admit that violent crime is a growing problem.
In late 2013, the U.S. Embassy urged Americans traveling to the Bahamas to take extra precautions after a U.S. citizen was shot and killed during a robbery. It said that Americans “residing in and traveling to the Bahamas should be aware of their surroundings and remain on heightened alert to avoid being a victim of crime.”
Miami maritime lawyer Jim Walker, who frequently represents passengers and crew members injured or assaulted on cruise ships around the world, warned that if the situation worsens, major cruise lines will drop Nassau from their itineraries.
“We’ve seen a pattern of conduct with the cruise lines where they had extensive conversations with authorities in the U.S. Virgin Islands, they complained about crime and when they didn’t get answers, they left,” Walker told the Nassau Guardian on Jan. 7. “My concern is that Nassau is one gunshot away from having cruise lines leave.”
Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe conceded that he’s worried increasing crime is damaging the image of the Bahamas as a global tourism destination.
“The Bahamas has a good reputation out there. A lot of people are coming from countries where they have crime problems, including the United States, but they don’t want to come to a destination where they have to keep looking over their shoulder,” said Wilchcombe following a Dec. 27 massacre that left four people dead in Nassau. “We have to put the image out there that this is still a very peaceful country. It starts with us.”
When it comes to cruise ships, the Bahamas leads the rest of the Caribbean in sheer numbers. A study by the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association found that just over 4.4 million passengers and crew arrived aboard cruise ships during the 2011-12 cruise year, up 87% from the 2.4 million who came during the 2008-09 season.
Of the current total, 90 percent disembarked and visited the Bahamas. Along with crew members, they spent a combined $393.8 million — up 60% from $246 million in 2008-09 — though crew members spent an average $110.00 each, as opposed to $64.81 per passenger. Despite the generally upbeat numbers, per-passenger spending declined by 23%, particularly on food and beverages, jewelry and local crafts.
All told, cruise ships contributed $146.2 million to the Bahamian economy in 2011-12 and employed 8,668 people — the highest figure for any Caribbean country.
Late last year, the Bahamas government signed a deal with a major resort line that foresees a $90 million refurbishment and expansion project at Columbus Isle Village, and on adjacent land in San Salvador.
Prime Minister Perry Christie said the agreement with Club Mediteranee and Sand & Ocean Investments Ltd. as an added partner would include existing guest rooms, buildings, grounds, mechanical plant and the creation of a spa, and new restaurants. The construction of 360 luxury condo-hotel units will be followed by the building of a 125-room boutique hotel to be managed by a European resort operator. Christie said the project, to be completed in four years, would create 335 direct jobs.
Larry Luxner is news editor of The Washington Diplomat and former editor of CubaNews. Born and raised in Miami and based in Bethesda, Md., since 1995, Larry has reported from every country in the Western Hemisphere. His specialty is Latin America and the Middle East, and he’s written more than 2,000 articles for publications ranging from National Journal to Saudi Aramco World. Larry also runs an Internet-based stock photo agency at www.luxner.com.