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Hotel SearchNEW PROVIDENCE ISLAND, Bahamas This tiny island, less than 80 square miles and slightly smaller than Boston, seems too miniscule to contain all the breathless hyperbole that’s been spilling out of its two largest resorts of late.

“Baha Mar single handedly positions the Bahamas as a premier luxury destination,” effused the resort’s president, Graeme Davis.

Howard Karawan, president of the long established Atlantis Paradise Island, countered, “I don’t know if there’s another resort in the world that has the magnitude and complexity and the bells and whistles that we do.”

Less than four months after the long delayed Baha Mar partially opened its first phase and fewer than four months before the region’s peak season, this most populous of Bahamas islands, home of the capital city, Nassau, continues to boost its record high room inventory.

The most prominent and controversial is Baha Mar, which at an estimated $4.2 billion in construction costs will be the most expensive development in the country’s 44 year history.

Baha Mar was delayed for more than two years amid speed bumps that ranged from allegations of financial mismanagement by its original developer to government impropriety to contractor sabotage. Parts of the mega resort opened in late April, including some 300 rooms at its Grand Hyatt, a 100,000 square foot casino (the country’s largest), an 18 hole Jack Nicklaus designed golf course, a 30,000 square foot Espa branded spa and a handful of food and beverage outlets.

As of late last month, the resort, which during its soft opening was also putting the finishing touches on a high end retail arcade that included brands such as Rolex, Bulgari and Tiffany, had opened about 1,000 rooms at the Grand Hyatt as well as 18 food and beverage outlets.

About eight miles east, the 3,400 room Atlantis Paradise Island is fighting to maintain its share of the island’s visitors between this year and next amid the addition of Baha Mar’s 2,300 rooms.

An aerial photo of Atlantis Paradise Island, which is getting about $90 million worth of upgrades in 2017. Photo Credit: David WJ Lee

This year, Atlantis owner Brookfield Asset Management will sink as much as $90 million into the 206 acre property. Last month, Atlantis started opening the first of its renovated rooms in the 693 room Coral Towers, and it is adding family friendly amenities such as a soda fountain in the lobby and a swim up Popsicle bar. Next month, Karawan said, Atlantis will begin improvements to its Marina Village collection of shops and restaurants adjacent to Atlantis Marina.

Not to be outdone, both Melia Nassau Beach and One Ocean Club, which are located adjacent to Baha Mar and Atlantis, respectively, are touting their own recent improvements. The 694 room Melia Nassau Beach, reflagged from the former Sheraton Nassau Beach in 2013, has received $19 million in improvements since reopening in 2014. The all inclusive resort was slated to be part of Baha Mar under its original developer, Sarkis Izmirlian, and may eventually be marketed as part of the megaresort, though no timetable has been set.

Meanwhile, the 105 room One Ocean Club, which, along with Atlantis was acquired by Brookfield Asset Management from Atlantis developer Kerzner International in 2012, completed a multimillion dollar renovation in late 2015, upgrading its Hartford Wing and adding a 125 foot oceanfront pool in the process.

Countering a spring break reputation

Resort owners and Bahamas officials alike are hoping that such improvements and new inventory will help the island shed its reputation as a party destination and cruise ship stop to place it alongside higher end Caribbean destinations such as the British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos.

Jeffery DalPoggetto, a Larkspur, Calif. based independent affiliate agent of Andavo Travel, said, “Some of my clients’ mindset has been closed off because of the college spring break parties and obnoxious drinking, and it’s my job to explain that you’re going to find those four , five and six star places in the Bahamas [that don’t cater to the party crowd].”

DalPoggetto said he booked one set of clients at Atlantis and another at One in the past six months, and “both ended up loving what they did.”

Early signs point to the Bahamas more than holding its own in a region of the Caribbean where demand was hampered last year by fears of the Zika virus.

Upgrades in 2015 at the One Ocean Club included updates to its Hartford Wing.

Caribbean resort demand had steadily surged since the recession, with regional revenue per available room (RevPAR) rising 28% between 2011 and 2015, according to STR. Last year, though, Caribbean RevPAR fell almost 3% and was little changed through June, said STR, which does not disclose Bahamas specific figures.

Meanwhile, New Providence last year attracted 3.6 million foreign visitors (about 70% by cruise, the rest by air), up about 10% from 2015, according to the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. Visits during the first quarter of this year, before Baha Mar opened, were up 7.2% from a year earlier, to about 992,000.

With the addition of Baha Mar’s rooms and casino, other Caribbean destinations could feel the impact even as Zika fears subside, according to Scott Smith, managing director at consultant CBRE Hotels. While destinations like Grand Cayman and Turks and Caicos might not be affected, Baha Mar could lure some business away from resorts in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and even the Miami area, Smith said.

“They have a nice casino, a good food and beverage program and a great beach,” Smith said of Baha Mar. “The hipper, honeymooning type from New York, New Jersey or Miami may say, ‘Let’s go down to Baha Mar for the weekend.'”

“The buzz is there, so in the short and medium term, it’ll have an impact on visitation numbers to the Bahamas, Caribbean and Florida,” added STR senior vice president Jan Freitag. “Will they be able to convert those people to repeat customers? I’d rather not speculate.”
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