Pictured is Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham (centre) with executives of the Latin Builders Association at the organisation’s regular luncheon meeting held at the Westin Colonnade Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida.
Coral Gables, Florida – Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham addressed members of the Latin Builders Association (LBA) at the organisation’s regular luncheon meeting held at the Westin Colonnade Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida Friday afternoon.
The LBA is a non-profit organization that encompasses an array of individuals and companies related to South Florida’s construction industry.
Mr. Ingraham addressed the hundreds in attendance on various topics including linkages between The Bahamas and South Florida and the country’s sports fishing regulations.
Members of the Association are developers and second-home owners in The Bahamas. The Association also holds regular fishing tournaments in The Bahamas.
During the luncheon, four Bahamian construction and architectural companies were among businesses welcomed as the newest members of the Association.
THE PRIME MINISTER: Ladies and Gentlemen,
I was very pleased to accept your invitation to join you today and to share some thoughts on how we might build upon the very special relationship which exists between South Florida and The Bahamas and, indeed, between the members of the Latin Builders Association and my country.
I have brought along with me, two of my Cabinet Ministers, the Honourable Tommy Turnquest, Minister of National Security and the Honourable Zhivargo Laing, Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance.
I was pleased to learn that among your membership are many frequent vacationers to The Bahamas, a goodly number of American Bahamian vacation-home owners and a number of other investors in The Bahamas.
And so I need not remind – The Bahamas is open for business.
The economy of The Bahamas is inextricably linked to that of the United States and particularly to that of South Florida.
Some 85% of our stop-over visitors come from the United States; that does not include Americans visiting on cruise ships. And, we attribute a similar proportion of tourists’ expenditure in The Bahamas to Americans visitors – $1.8 billion last year.
In return, we spend more than 70 cents of every dollar earned from Americans on imports from America. Those imports come, in the main, from, or through, South Florida.
Florida is the preferred vacation and shopping destination for Bahamians.
You know us well and we know you well. Together we have been and still are, good to each other and good for each other.
I have asked our Bahamian business community to join with the Government in identifying how we might improve our processes and systems and make us even more responsive to our visitors and second home-owners, yachtsmen and investors.
I extend the same invitation to you, friends of The Bahamas. We welcome your views and recommendations on how we might improve our services.
I recall that we learned a bitter lesson when new Sports-fishing Regulations were introduced without, I believe, adequate discussion or notice to the yachting and sport-fishing segment of our tourism market. The result for us was a precipitous contraction in the number of visiting sports fishermen with serious economic consequences for our Out Island Tourism.
Amendments to those Regulations last year, took into account the views of local fishermen, owners and operators of sports fishing businesses in The Bahamas, visiting sportsmen, and organizers of international fishing tournaments. Also, the very valid interests of conservationists to protect fish populations were taken into account to ensure the sustainability of the activity. I think we produced a happy end.
It is not only tourism, home-ownership, boating, sport-fishing, vacationing, and commerce that we share with South Florida.
We share the common problem of illicit transshipment of narcotic drugs and movement of economic migrants.
The Bahamas appreciates the cooperation and is grateful for the assistance received from both US Federal and State law enforcement agencies here in Florida, in combating these issues.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We are, as you are well aware, a small archipelago of 700 islands with just over 330 thousand people.
We accepted a long time ago that if we were to develop successfully as a country, we would need to invite and encourage foreign direct investment.
We are an open economy, fairly well-integrated into the global economy.
We are especially interested in attracting international capital investments in a variety of areas: tourism resorts; second-homes; marinas; information and data processing; assembly and high-tech industries; ship registration and ship repair services; manufacturing and captive insurance.
We are a premier warm weather destination and a favourite of Americans.
The themed Atlantis Resort and Casino on Paradise Island has become a major international franchise with a sister resort being developed at the Palm in Dubai.
Properties on Paradise Island now cater to the full range of tourist amenities: from the five star One and Only Ocean Club, to the energetic and family-oriented Atlantis; from the more reclusive adult retreat at the Cove, to the increasingly popular time-share accommodation at Harbourside or condo-hotel accommodation now available at the Reef.
We were pleased, less than two weeks ago, to conclude an agreement with a major international group, Baha Mar, which proposes a multi-billion dollar redevelopment and expansion of the resort properties of Cable Beach in Nassau in joint venture with two huge US resort and gaming organizations – Starwood and Harrah’s.
When realized, this resort will include a Caesar’s Palace hotel and casino, the first Caesar’s property outside the United States of America.
The picture is also improving in Grand Bahama where the fallout from two terrible storms in 2004 and 2005 placed a damper on resort activity. The climate is now beginning to improve with the acquisition earlier this year, of the former Royal Oasis Hotel in Freeport by the Harcourt Group of Ireland.
Additionally, the promise of considerable resort and residential development by GINN in West End, Grand Bahama is creating new business and employment opportunities as the site is made ready for development.
Great interest in resort development in our Family Islands continues to grow; we look to attract environment-friendly resort developments that would not be unduly disruptive to small communities in those islands.
The Four Seasons presently operate the Emerald Bay Resort in Exuma where the well-known Peace and Plenty Hotel recently celebrated its 50th year in operation in George Town.
Other well established existing Family Islands resorts and or marina facilities include the Spanish Cay Resort, Bluff House, the Green Turtle Cay Club, the Great Abaco Beach Resort, the Treasure Cay Beach Resort and the new Bahama Beach Club at Treasure Cay, all in Abaco; the Hawks Nest Hotel and Marina and Fernandez Bay Resort in Cat Island; the legendary Pink Sands Hotel on Harbour Island in Eleuthera; and the Columbus Isle Village, one of Club Med’s premier vacation villages located at San Salvador.
The Ritz Carlton operates an upscale resort at Winding Bay in Abaco and is developing a second resort on Rose Island off the coast of New Providence.
The Passerine Group is also developing a five-star hotel and residential development at Baker’s Bay on Great Guana Cay in the Abacos.
And, Cuban-American, Gerardo Capo, one of your members based here in Florida, has developed a marina and residential resort community on Bimini.
Any number of smaller motels and inns, some catering specifically to diving or bone fishing and others catering to those who want to do absolutely nothing on vacation, dot our islands from Abaco and the Berries to Andros (home to the luxury boutique Tiamo Hotel), Cat Island, Exuma, Crooked, Acklins and Long Island.
And, there is considerable interest by investors in residential and condominium developments around our country, most notably in New Providence, Abaco and Grand Bahama.
As regards vacations in The Bahamas, or indeed, investments in our economy, I note that our currency is tied to the US dollar. Hence, vacations and investment in The Bahamas are not subject to the vagaries of international currency exchange rates now impacting the value of the US dollar internationally. In The Bahamas a dollar is a dollar.
Notwithstanding our success, the impact of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requiring US citizens to be in possession of passports to regain entry to your country following a visit to ours has been significant, curtailing impulse visits to our islands by many residents of South Florida.
And, the economic down-turn in the US, the high and increasing cost of fuel, the sub-prime meltdown, the resulting impact on the US housing market, and the further weakening of the US dollar all combine to create new challenges for us.
I want therefore, to use this occasion to highlight what we have to offer on our many distinctly different and unique island destinations and to encourage you to visit and to consider opportunities for investment for our mutual benefit.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
In the financial services sector, we are a choice location in our hemisphere.
And we continue to be a low-tax jurisdiction with no taxes on income, wealth or inheritance.
Financial institutions without a physical presence are no longer permitted to be in the banking business in The Bahamas and an effective regulatory regime, both in terms of legislation and in respect of its structural and operational arrangements, has been established.
The formula, of twin pillars of the Bahamian economy has worked well for us and we have long enjoyed one of the best standards of living with one of the highest per capita incomes among independent States in the Western Hemisphere outside of North America.
But we are not only about tourism and international financial services.
Grand Bahama has been the industrial centre of our country since its establishment more than half a century ago. Both heavy and light industries have operated over the years running the gamut from oil refining and storage, cement production and pharmaceutical manufacturing to Styrofoam manufacturing, glass works and dental and medical implements manufacturing.
All have benefitted from tax and incentive regimes available under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement which created the Grand Bahama Port Authority in Freeport.
Now we have cruise ship and yacht repair and mega ship repair facilities in Grand Bahama and, very markedly, a significant container transshipment industry.
Today, Freeport, Grand Bahama has one of the region’s busiest container transshipment facilities offering direct shipping connections to almost every continent.
The deep water port facility, located at the convergence of the major shipping lanes is designed to handle the largest container vessels currently in use or under construction. It has state-of-the art terminal operating systems, operational expertise and professional management that work in partnership with the US Government on security matters via the Container Security and Mega Ports Initiatives.
Indeed, Freeport now boasts of a container port larger than the container Port of Miami.
Ground was broken for its Phase V expansion early last December. The expansion will expand the Port’s capacity to more than 2 million T.E.U. (twenty foot Equivalent containers), increasing synergies for Bahamas and South Florida trade. This expansion comes in direct response to the continuing growth in global trade and to the corresponding increase in growth in the volume of shipping business in our region.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The import-content of our tourism spending is such that the opportunity exists for expansion of the domestic productive capacity of many of these products without adversely impacting our competitiveness. This presents many rich opportunities for the expansion of light industry and manufacturing tied directly to the needs of the tourism sector.
On that note, I thank you again for your invitation and reiterate that a warm welcome awaits you in the Islands of The Bahamas.
I thank you.