FREEPORT, Grand Bahama – Government Ministers, Gaming Board officials and management of the Isle of Capri casino and Hutchison Whampoa met with the casino’s employees Monday night, to address concerns regarding the November 1 transition in casino ownership to the Treasure Bay group.
Minister of Tourism and Aviation the Hon. Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace and State Minister for Finance the Hon. Zhivargo Laing were among officials at the meeting, organised to answer questions and clarify points of concern held by workers in the transition period from employment with Isle of Capri to employment with Treasure Bay.
Minister Vanderpool-Wallace said, “We wanted to be sure that those persons who, for whatever reason may wish to sever their relationship with the company, [knew] that whatever severance is due them - even though there is no change in ownership of the company which is normally the conditions under which you would provide that severance - that we are prepared to provide them with that severance and to give them sufficient time to think about it, and decide whether they wish to take that option.”
Such a provision is part of the Government’s move to ensure the continuing operation of the island’s sole casino, which employs over 200 Grand Bahamians.
Employees who opt for severance would, as is standard, be required to re-apply with the new company and negotiate their respective terms of employment.
One of the main operational concerns expressed by employees was the relatively low volume of guests coming to the casino; a matter the Tourism Minister said is already being discussed in terms of the integration of operations between the casino and owners of the Our Lucaya Resort (Hutchison Whampoa), where the casino is located.
“It is very important,” he emphasised. “I said to them (the employees) that I have never seen a casino completely separated from a resort work, but fortunately even Isle of Capri in its latter days with definitely a new casino operator under consideration, were already having a conversation with the resort owners so that they have access to rooms on different terms and more favourable terms than I think has been in place before, because without getting into the complications of it, that is a very important part of the marketing capacity and capabilities of a casino operation.
“And so we see the management of Hutchison working much more closely to ensure they demonstrate that they understand that and put in place those packages and programmes that we believe will make a difference.”
The Government expects that difference to also be made through its public/private sector tackling of what was considered one of the more significant hindrances to Grand Bahama’s competitiveness in the tourism market – the high cost of airlift to the island.
Minister Vanderpool-Wallace pointed out that in addition to the cost of the Miami-Grand Bahama route failing to positively compete with other destinations from Miami like Cancun, Montego Bay or Las Vegas, the cost of airlift also gave rise to domestic competition from the destinations of Nassau and Paradise Island.
“So we sat with the private sector here and said this is something that we have to fix,” he noted, “and we have come to the point where the Government, the private sector; specifically the [Grand Bahama] Airport Company, Freeport Flight Services, Hutchison [Whampoa] have come and put a programme in place where the cost to fly to Grand Bahama has been reduced sufficiently for Grand Bahama to become much more competitive, not only against Nassau but against all of the others.”
It is a programme airlines have demonstrated their approval of by increasing and/or introducing airlift to Grand Bahama as of November 1.
WestJet will commence twice-weekly service to Freeport from Toronto, Canada, Delta Airlines will begin service four times weekly to Freeport beginning in December, Sprit Airlines has re-confirmed its commitment to Grand Bahama from Ft. Lauderdale and American Eagle has increased its airlift from two flights to four flights per week.
“So the airlines are beginning to tell us that the initiatives that we are taking, we believe, are initiatives that they think will make a difference in terms of improving the attractiveness of Grand Bahama,” Minister Vanderpool Wallace said.
Securing additional airlift is part of the dynamic equation of increasing both the volume of traffic to Grand Bahama as well as boosting its hotels’ occupancies; a goal the Minister says is being accomplished in part through new television ads showcasing Grand Bahama island.
“You would have seen very recently the Ministry of Tourism running Grand Bahama commercials,” he pointed out, “and that is something that we intend to resume in the middle of October so that we have this beginning in time for the November changes and improvement in airlift that we are going to have in a number of places.”
By: Sharon Turner
Isle of Capri Meeting
Our Lucaya Casino Integration