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After my organization hosted the first Small Business Summit in 2009, it was evident that The Bahamas needed a national strategic plan for the development of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). However, our country for 38 years, has had a flaw for not developing a practical strategic national plan for anything (crime, economic development, immigration, etc.).
Industry leaders from the professional and medical services; manufacturing, agriculture, fisheries, wholesale merchandising and retail; construction, tourism, hospitality, commercial banks and government indicated during the 2009 Small Business Summit that an Act to developed the SME sector was far overdue.
As a result, a report was developed to identify how this SME could be formulated and implemented in an effective and efficient manner. This report, Act As One: The Importance of Stakeholders' Collaborative Efforts When Developing the Small Business Act of The Bahamas, can be viewed at http://www.markturnquestconsulting.com/Entrepreneurship.html. After consulting with the government, I applaud the Ministry of Finance team for creating the political will to develop the Bahamas SME Development Act and to create a new strategic framework to enhance the productivity level of the sector.
However, there were too many questionable decisions in 2010 on how to perform infrastructural development (mainly the road improvement works) and what formula of tax increases to apply on import duties. I hope that these two decisions will not reduce the effectiveness of the SME Development Act in the future. In 2010, the main focus to stimulate the SME sector should have been to provide incentives and concessions to mitigate the impact of the recession. There was a small window of opportunity to 'stop the bleeding' and it was not taken advantage of; hence, I witnessed hundreds of SME failures and the death of many entrepreneurial dreams. Governments must realize that sometimes negative effects of policy decisions without proper consultations are sometimes irreversible.
My main concern with the formulation process so far is that there has been limited participation by the Act's main stakeholders - SMEs. If this had occurred, then the $7,500 Jump Start Program (grant funding) would not have been given a green light. The grant is not enough and other sources of funding are required by local and international financial institutions to be pooled together to benefit new and existing SMEs.
Other concerns are as follows:
o There should be town meetings with the wider SME community in order to gather information about the major problems and opportunities facing the sector;
o In addition, there needs to be more industry-specific (construction, agriculture, merchandising, hospitality, manufacturing, technical services, tourism, hospitality, fashion design, etc.) discussions, so that local and international issues that affect individual industries could be addressed in the Act.
The formulation process of the SME Development Act needs to be evaluated and corrective measures should take place. I am aware that there were consultations with the Inter-American Development Bank, The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation and a few others, but this is not an effective way to develop such an important Act. There needs to be 'inter-stakeholder synergy'; this means that more trade organizations, banks, industry leaders and especially SME owners should be involved in the formulation process before the Act is debated in Parliament.
This inter-stakeholder synergy between the government, NGOs, trade associations, financial institutions, industry leaders and SME owners would align resources and capabilities to craft a SME Act that is meaningful to the sector. Although this Act should not precede a strategic national plan for SME development, it is a good start because our SME sector is lagging behind in competitiveness, globally.
The main policies that must be adapted by key stakeholders when diligently transforming the Act from formulation to implementation are as follows:
I. Ensure that possible amalgamation of Bahamas Agricultural Industrial Corporation (BAIC), Bahamas Development Bank and Bahamas Entrepreneurial Venture Fund focuses on leveraging the strengths and correcting the weaknesses of the organizations;
II. The new SME development framework that is being developed must be structured to eliminate financial and non-financial decision making based on political influences. This is the main reason why the Bahamas Development Bank is near bankruptcy;
III. Focus on Family Island development but keep the natural heritage and cultural resources of each island;
IV. Reduce the barriers that make it almost impossible for SMEs to access international funding;
V. Promote and encourage e-commerce activities and remove policies that make opening on-line merchant accounts very difficult;
VI. Adapt public policy tools to SME needs - especially facilitating SME participation in the public procurement process;
VII. Consider creating a Ministry or Department of Commerce to protect the SME sector from the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and to develop strategies to improve on its five percent contribution to gross domestic product.
I. Partner with government and international leading institutions to develop comprehensive SME funding scheme (SFS) so that more financial support can be extended to SMEs;
II. The $7,500 grant that is currently being offered to a few SMEs by the government could be used as a down payment so that local and international banks, and private investors could give more meaningful funding in order to prevent business failure due to undercapitalization;
III. Focus on packaging loans extended to SMEs that have built-in accounting management, human resources and marketing support programs at an affordable cost for at least a year.
The Bahamas Chamber Of Commerce and Employers Confederation
I. Focus on providing new SMEs with more market information about various industries. The organization should partner with the College of The Bahamas and the Inter-American Development Bank to perform more market research on the economy of The Bahamas;
II. Become more visible in the SME market (over-the-hill) and remove the perception that the organization only focuses on big businesses;
III. Encourage professional and trade associations and SMEs to become more knowledgeable about the pros and cons of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
I. SMEs must be committed to acting in a socially responsible manner (paying business licenses, NIB, correct custom duties, etc.);
II. SMEs must become knowledgeable about all aspects of their business model (operations, marketing, accounting/finance, human resources, etc.);
III. All SMEs must have sound marketing, management, human resource and accounting systems. SMEs must invest in the Quickbooks Accounting Software; it is an invaluable tool for businesses.
The Bahamian consumer
At the heart of the new Act, there should be the conviction that achieving the best possible framework conditions for SMEs depends first and foremost on society's recognition of entrepreneurs.
Bahamian consumers must support the implementation of the new Act and SME framework to buy authentic Bahamian made products and discourage criminal activities that would negatively affect local SMEs. The Bahamian consumers should understand that vibrant SMEs will make The Bahamas more robust to stand against the uncertainty of business cycles (especially recessions and depressions).
Finally, framers of the initial draft of the Act must consider the following important matters:
I. Ensure that presidents of trade and professionals associations clearly identify problems that their members are experiencing from local regulations and international competitors;
II. Build in major incentives in the Act for entrepreneurial ventures that create innovative products, delivery systems, operational structures and marketing strategies in filmmaking, fashion design, e-commerce, information technology, agriculture, manufacturing, education, software development, art and handicraft;
III. Create added concessions to protect 'socially responsible' SMEs that employ over 25 Bahamians during future recessions;
IV. Provide special assistance to local SMEs that focuses highly on exporting authentic Bahamian products and creative services;
V. Provide regulatory policies to protect the management consultancy sector from unfair and unethical practices that are performed by international service providers.
I hope that the initial draft of SME Development Act is brought to the business community. The government must host a series of town meetings and workshops so that all aspects of this Act could be diligently crafted. My advice to the government is not to dilute the process, but have adequate consultation with SME owners and not to force this Act down the throats of SME owners. The government must understand that this is an important Act and not to delay communicating the contents of it to SMEs throughout The Bahamas.
In addition, members of Parliament must become more involved in the formulation of the Act. They should immediately host meetings and obtain information about the challenges and other issues that SMEs are experiencing in their constituencies. This is important so that they (MPs) can have intellectual debates when discussing this Act in the House of Assembly.
I would like for SMEs to contact me so that we can ensure that this Act is diligently formulated and implemented. To contact me call 326-6748/427-3640 or log on to www.markturnquestconsulting.com.
- Mark A. Turnquest
The British Colonial Hilton hotel has pumped $1 million into upgrades and refurbishments for its upcoming Beach Club.
LaToya Moxey, the resort's marketing manager, confirmed to Guardian Business a strong demand for more benefits led the hotel to embark upon the initiative.
"We have decided to add the Beach Club to our portfolio and it's a venture that we are very excited to embark upon. We are going to be targeting corporate executives on the island. We are also looking forward to launching and expanding our portfolio," she noted.
"We fall under the Hilton Worldwide brand. Every hotel has its unique features. Other hotels such as the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico has a Beach Club and we decided it would be a great opportunity for us to venture into this."
Moxey noted the preparations for the Beach Club are an extension of the resort's $15 million in upgrades undertaken three years ago.
"We decided to do various upgrades to the property. That includes the patio, pool, beach area and the gym. We estimate around $1 million in upgrades and refurbishments specifically for the club. There was a soft launch for some of our clients. We are looking to open our doors to the corporate world in a few months," she said.
She shared with Guardian Business that the club will be introduced to the corporate market, but will also be extended to interested individuals.
"We were very interested in expanding our portfolio because there is a need and demand from tourists and local guests. We decided it would be a great concept for the hotel to bring to our guests as expanded and extended benefits, making it a timely and perfect move for us," according to Moxey.
The marketing manager also pointed out that a Beach Club manager has been chosen. Thus far, the response has been promising.
"The response has been great so far. We have been getting lots of interested callers. We are expecting approximately 100 members initially for us. It's a comfortable number for us to maintain. We have been getting a lot of interest from businesses and individuals alike," she added.
She described the resort's beach club feature as unique because of its location and offerings.
The benefits of club membership include complimentary facilities and services, a hotel credit account and preferred pricing and discounts.
"Our Beach Club is an unique feature, although there are beach and country clubs throughout The Bahamas in private areas. It's a very unique experience to have the Beach Club here at the Hilton because of its location, and it ties into that corporate feel that the city brings," Moxey noted. "There are a lot of features that are available to you, such as complimentary stays for you throughout the year. And you have the convenience of full concierge service.
"Our beach club is a very unique concept as it gives members exclusive access to the Hilton property and all of its amenities. We have various features such as gym membership, free functions that we put on throughout the year, and vacation planning with other Hilton properties abroad.
"There are so many features and opportunities as it relates to our beach club."
The beach club will be launched in a few months.
Branding was the conference theme that drew business principals
and owners from the Christie’s Great Estates network to Toronto this week. Affiliates, such as the affiliate for the Bahamas John Christie of HG Christie Ltd., previewed the network’s global expansion strategy, viewed the company’s new Web site to be rolled out publically by year’s end, and learned how to better utilize the resources of the parent company, Christie’s, to build business through art and real estate introductions.
I wish to thank Hubert A. Ingraham, prime minister of The Bahamas, for acknowledging and being attentive to the concerns of pilots at Lynden Pindling International Airport. Pilots are faced with many challenges daily. As the founder of the Bahamian Pilots Alliance, my deep passion and dedication is focused on executing positive changes in my workplace (the airport and other airports within this chain of Bahama islands).
I also wish to express appreciation for the support of the Minister of Aviation Senator Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace for his help in changing the maximum hours my colleagues and I are allowed to be on duty and the sectors that can be flown. We now work up to 10 flights or a maximum of 10 hours (which ever comes first).
About a year ago, the member of Parliament for Fox Hill, Fred Mitchell, heard our plea and reached out by attending our press conference. His words were very encouraging and we are grateful for his support.
As my colleagues and I continue to provide superior service to our commuters who fly back and forth throughout The Bahamas on a daily basis, we are encouraged by the prayers and kind words of many. We rely on the prayers of many, especially our family and close friends, as we take on the daring task of embracing the skies. Thank you all for your commitments to keeping us loved, supported and "prayed-up".
We embark upon this new year, and we are all blessed to have jobs. Although we have courage to skillfully carry out our duties (sometimes in stressful environments), our successes (as pilots) would be incomplete without the professional support of our cabin attendants, air-traffic controllers, mechanics, customs and immigration officers and all our other aviation-based teammates. Daily we all face various challenges. Thank you for your support.
It is time to take leadership of our Civil Aviation Department. Based on comments and concerns, the department needs help. We welcome the idea of bringing new inspectors on board.
The issue of hiring immigrants before considering an eligible Bahamian is still a concerning factor. There is no reason why, in 2012, any airline in The Bahamas has to bring in and train any foreigners. There are many capable and qualified Bahamians who can fill these positions in aviation. The concerns have been voiced and your expressions of concern are not going ignored.
Are pilots still being coerced to fly unsafely? Yes, it is still happening - even today. Do labor issues still exist? Oh, yes! Are tired pilots being asked to fly, tampering with logs, and are the regulations and the laws that govern us still blatantly being pushed aside? There are laws and regulations that govern this country. There are many concerns, but as united and committed professionals we will find a resolve.
I humbly ask every Bahamian pilot in The Bahamas to remember your professional decorum. The time is here for us to change this industry and move ourselves upward to the next level. Let us understand that there are investors in our country, and it is time that we seriously consider an urgent need to invest in ourselves.
We are 50 miles southeast of the world's largest economy. We have a peaceful and stable democracy. We have a tremendously beautiful climate - paradise! Our friendly people and free lifestyle is inviting. Best of all, as I look around at my colleagues, I see highly trained professionals. We take control of our craft and our major concern is always the safety of our passengers and as well as an appreciation for our own lives. We soar from destination to destination with a mantra of "safety first"!
I pray that the $50 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is spent on our local airline companies and not the non-locally owned companies that we compete with daily.
Finally, I wish to encourage our visitors to consider booking tickets on Flamingo Air, Lee Air, First-Class Charters, Dove Wings Charters, Regional Air, Abaco Air, Atlantic Blue Charters, Southern Air, Bahamasair and many others, and explore all that The Bahamas has to offer in its uniquely beautiful outer islands. Consider all local aviators as you make plans to explore our islands.
We can and we will do it - take responsibility and leadership in our desired professions. Many of us, since childhood, have dreamed of becoming pilots and we've accomplished our goal. Now it is time to dream further. I ask all Bahamian pilots who have not registered as yet for the Bahamian Pilot Alliance to join us. Connect with us on Facebook or please contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We need your support as the elections draw near. Just as the Free National Movement, the Democratic National Alliance and the Progressive Liberal Party are relying on your votes, the Bahamian Pilots Alliance is important and needs your support. We will continue on our mission to ensure that your concerns are heard and regulations are put in place that will benefit all. Continue to do your best. Put safety first! May God continue to grant us His favor and blessings.
- Captain Philip L. Armbrister
Minister of Tourism and Aviation Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace deserves high marks for his successes since assuming these portfolios. He has made strides in both areas despite the worldwide economic downturn which reduced tourism receipts and numbers. He has also had to contend with turmoil in the airline industry and a tourism bureaucracy in need of new thinking.
From his days as director general of the Department of Tourism he has long pressed for and has now been greatly assisted in his efforts by the current and ambitious program to modernize and transform the tourism infrastructure, the rationale and scope of which the prime minister outlined in a national address some months ago.
These infrastructural upgrades, long in coming, include the development of a new international airport for New Providence, the Gateway Road Project, the beginning of the revitalization of downtown Nassau, a new straw market and other upgrades on our capital island.
At the other islands of The Bahamas, which the minister and his team are now branding with more individual flavor, other infrastructural projects are in train for the benefit of Bahamians and visitors.
Marsh Harbour, the second busiest air gateway in terms of tourism numbers, is set to get a new airport and become one of the finest small airports in the region. It should not be forgotten the greater number of international airports The Bahamas has to upgrade and maintain in comparison to other Caribbean countries.
From Glass Window Bridge in Eleuthera to proposed new health care facilities in Exuma and road works in Acklins, "It's getting better in The Bahamas" has taken on a new currency. Our archipelagic nature, though presenting various challenges to national development is an extraordinary strategic advantage.
Minister Vanderpool-Wallace has often articulated his vision of tourism as a critical element of national development and as a force multiplier for ongoing diversification within the tourism industry and across industries.
Towards this end he has, as a matter of necessity, relentlessly focused on air links to and within the archipelago, as well as sea links connecting the islands in the chain and the chain to the world. He has also done so in recognition of the entrepreneurial and job opportunities for Bahamians.
The difference between what cruise and air passengers spend is obvious and clear. Not as clear to some are the differences in the economics of Bahamian tourism as compared to other Caribbean destinations. The tourism chief has had to focus on the benefits of both to the economy in general and to the overall tourism product.
In his dogged effort to increase airlift, the Minister has had to contend with consumer confidence in the U.S. as well as some observers who have conveniently ignored his efforts as well as facts on the ground. He has taken his less honest critics in stride. But airline and hotel executives as well as his staff have no doubts about his feverish efforts to increase the number of air passengers and hotel occupancy.
The aviation minister employed his renowned energy and creativity to expand airlift, including new services such as Air Canada and other global players to Exuma. JetBlue has now announced another nonstop flight to Nassau from the greater New York area (Westchester) beginning in November. It will mark the first regularly scheduled flight from that airport to anywhere in the region.
It is easy to forget that the declines the country felt in terms of stop-over-visitors and air arrivals were a result of the loss of the most lucrative part of the tourism business to The Bahamas namely the corporate group and incentive business from the U.S. market. It appears that the upturn in group business will be seen as early as this fall continuing into 2012.
It also appears that the July, August and September quarter is forecasted to be much stronger than last year as evidenced by both Atlantis and Baha Mar keeping all of their current inventory open as opposed to the closures of the Beach Tower and Wyndham, respectively, last year. There are also forecasted increases in room revenues in this quarter.
One of the greater game changers for tourism and the economy envisioned by the Minister of Tourism and Aviation is the expansion of business and tourism travel from Latin America to The Bahamas
With his successful negotiation of the new air link between Panama and Nassau that dream is being fulfilled through Copa Airlines. It is already exceeding forecasts from Latin America already having had more than six flights with aircraft that were larger than originally committed to the new route.
If sustained, the initiative will be one of the more groundbreaking efforts ever by a Tourism chief. It would provide regular service from Latin America to The Bahamas especially for potentially lucrative markets in Brazil, Chile, Argentina and other countries. It may serve the greatly valued market of high-end tourists, business travellers particularly in financial services, and other high net worth individuals.
It bodes well for our tourism industry that when it is summer in our traditional markets in North America and Europe that it is winter in some of the South American countries from which we will be seeking visitors. The burgeoning middle class in the Brazilian cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are potentially lucrative markets.
In partnership with others, the Minister has ensured the removal of the visa barrier for a host of countries as well as worked to market the Bahama Isles to Latin Americans who may want a different vacation, one more similar to European tourists who prefer a more leisurely and culturally rich experience.
This may include marketing Grand Bahama in a different fashion for Latin Americans visitors and the rebranding of Freeport itself and Our Lucaya within this context, both of which are in their embryonic stages.
Already connected by history and trade through the Panama Canal, The Panamanian-Bahamian connection is about to get a boost in terms of two-way flows between the two countries made easier by nonstop and efficient air service. Bahamians will in all likelihood visit Panama in droves especially The Colón Free Trade Zone.
The Zone is at the Atlantic gateway to the Panama Canal and is "dedicated to [the] re-export [of] an enormous variety of merchandise to Latin America and the Caribbean. It is also the largest free zone in the Americas and second largest in the world."
Even as economic storm clouds continue to appear on the horizon, the Tourism Minister has sought to expand the country's options, which has included a greater effort in Canada. His efforts in Latin America promise to boost our overall market presence and provide Bahamians with additional business, touristic, educational and cultural opportunities in that region.
Mr. Vanderpool Wallace has demonstrated that he will continue to focus on the critical American market including air passengers and stop-over-visitors. The challenge that he and we continue to face is the ongoing improvement of the visitor experience and product.
This includes what we do in our homes and schools, businesses and civil society and heritage and cultural organizations to ameliorate the underlying sociological challenges which will enable more of us including our young men to take advantage of the world's premier industry, one that has proven sustainable for an ever diversifying Bahamian economy.
Despite the critics, the armchair pundits with grand but unworkable schemes and the self-serving and uninformed statements by some politicians who proved to be failures in tourism and aviation, the Tourism Minister has significant accomplishments.
There is probably no one who wishes that even more can and should be done in our primary industry than Vanderpool Wallace whom some are content to blame for much of the country's challenges in tourism while rarely giving him credit for successes in the same.
In difficult times the Minister of Tourism and Aviation has posted an impressive record. In better times, the country will be able to build on that record.
Two colleagues in the real estate arena, William Wong and Chris Darville, have now merged into one company to form Darville-Wong Realty. The details were finalized on February 1.
Both Wong and Darville said they both have been seriously discussing the merger for the last four years and decided now to make the marriage official, which will create a merged firm with a staff compliment of 12 agents and two brokers.
"I think my reason for the merger is economics and the way I travel today," said Darville. He shared that he finds his new partner to be fairly aggressive and both companies have a great team of agents so it made sense. "In this business most agencies have basically the same listings, and we just find that with the combined businesses, we bring synergies together and economically it made more sense," said Wong.
It only makes sense to share and pool the resources, said Wong, and it's something he sees as mutually beneficial for all involved. "We're quite optimistic that with the combined synergies and the staff and our advertising, we could enjoy a good share of the market," said Wong.
"I'd like to see us target more of the commercial properties in New Providence and also expand our wings more in the Family islands," said Wong. "There seems to be an increasing demand for properties in the Family Islands and also we're going to have one of the best registers for rentals in New Providence." The plan, Wong said, is that when people think of rentals they will think of Darville-Wong Realty.
Additionally, the merged firm will offer property management in its services, along with appraisals and sales.
"We will become a one-stop shop. In addition to that, we have a mortgage broker on staff that can pre-qualify and secure financing for potential clients, so you don't have to go anyplace else," said Wong.
Wong, a former president of the Bahamas Real Estate Association (BREA), has seen a number of transitions in recent weeks, having relocated his firm from its Love Beach office back to the Cable Beach strip which, he said, only made sense with a number of developments like Baha Mar taking place.
Both Darville and Wong have a number of years of experience in the real estate industry and are committed to making the presence of Darville-Wong Realty felt in the market.
The government is said to be "very keen" on a proposal that would see a national fund established into which high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) can invest through the purchase of bonds as an alternative to obtaining permanent residency through the acquisition of residential property.
Such innovative ideas are being considered as part and parcel of a reform process which is increasingly considered likely to see the government change its policy on the granting of permanent residency with the right to work and citizenship.
The changes are being considered as part of a plan to attract more high-net-worth individuals to this country and spur economic activity, sources close to the matter told Guardian Business.
"At the moment, the only direct benefit the government gets is the fee paid for permanent residence.
"This (fund) would raise the threshold for getting in and at the same time create a pool of money that can be used for certain development purposes. I think there may be one or two other countries doing it," said a source close to the matter.
"Money collected from these bonds (purchased by HNWIs seeking status) could be used for national development purposes. They would carry a rate of interest and be repayable after a period of time, or some could be non-refundable.
"A lot of these ideas are coming from the private sector, but the government is very keen on it; they're very interested in it."
A source with knowledge of the status of discussions on the proposal told Guardian Business yesterday that no concrete decisions have been made on exactly what reforms will be made to immigration polices at this time, but progress is being made such that within several months a plan could be announced.
"Things are happening behind the scenes. The government is putting a lot of time and attention into it. Work is still actively being performed on it and there's still a lot of input from the private sector."
A number of key players in various industries came out in favor of reforms being undertaken in this regard after Sean McWeeney, Q.C., a key adviser to the prime minister, suggested in a mid-May speech to the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) Caribbean Conference that an investor citizenship program could be key to unlocking future growth in the economy, by creating incentives for high-net-worth individuals to move to The Bahamas and set up businesses here.
Top realtor George Damianos; Baha Mar's senior Vice-president of administration and external affairs Robert Sands, and a senior banker, speaking on condition of anonymity, have all thrown their support behind such reforms. Damianos said he would be "dancing in the streets" if such reforms were passed, suggesting they would generate a "wonderful boost" for the economy.
Guardian Business understands that the government wants to ensure that any changes in this regard that do take place will fall within the framework of existing law, rather than requiring the government to amend the nationality act.
The source explained: "That means you are sort of stuck with the existing statutory requirement for citizenship, meaning you have to be resident in The Bahamas for at least seven years preceding the application.
"Certainly they are not going to go with the St Kitts-style program. I don't think that was ever seriously in contemplation." St. Kitts has become notorious for the ease with which citizenship can now be obtained in return for investment, given the swiftness with which it can be acquired and the fact that living in the country is not a condition of obtaining it.
One change that is being contemplated by the Bahamian government, Guardian Business understands, which could fit within the existing legal framework, would be to provide permanent residency and the right to work within your own business "right off the bat".
Stopping short of conferring citizenship, this could be coupled with "some kind of guarantee that comes close to an enforceable legal right" that once the individual in question meets the residency requirements prescribed under the act - seven years living in The Bahamas - his or her permanent resident status will be converted into citizenship.
Guardian Business understands that one aspect of the reform proposals that is "slowing things down" at present is consideration being given to creating a system whereby permanent residency with the right to work could be provided along with "conferring a visa right" for the United States.
"That is of particlar interest to high-net-worth Chinese. To get a visa in China is impossibly complicated. So we could say 'we can't give you citizenship, we can give you permanent residency and can confer a visa right'. They really want a document that allows them to get the U.S. permanent residency status in The Bahamas that carries with it the ability to get a visa from the U.S. I know that there are discussions along those lines. It would be based on the vetting we do and an assurance that it would involve relatively small numbers."
The source said that "part and parcel" of any reform of policies relating to accessing citizenship would be the raising of the bar "very considerably" in terms of qualifications for receiving permanent residency, to ensure that only high-net-worth individuals are going to apply. In addition, "transparency" surrounding how many such individuals will be considered for status on an annual basis is also expected.
While providing opportunities for HNWIs to benefit from The Bahamas' low tax environment will be a crucial draw, the source said, the government will also have to tread "diplomatically and gingerly" so as to avoid negative fallout from such an initiative.
"The last thing The Bahamas wants to do is advertise itself as a tax haven," the source said.
The government has not yet stated an official position on the issue of investor citizenship. However, during his contribution to the 2014/2015 budget debate, Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder stated that a fundamental element of the government's growth plan for the country will revolve around the establishment of a "sustainable, credible and transparent residency program" to attract high-net-worth individuals (HNWI) to live, invest and do business in The Bahamas."
Pinder added: "In the context of the international initiatives...new product development is key to expanding on opportunities that are presented. I believe that The Bahamas can position itself to take advantage of its natural assets and business platform to attract new residents who will engage in substance over form in The Bahamas. We must commit ourselves to a framework of immigration reform to encourage true physical presence and tax residence in The Bahamas. The risks and imposition on privacy demands a sustainable, credible and transparent residency product," he said.
A softer side to construction is emerging thanks to a two-woman company that is transforming newly-built condos and townhomes into inviting, move-in-ready homes.
It's the post-construction final touch, the luxurious-looking, highly affordable fully-furnished option that is easing buyer stress and boosting developer sales.
The company is UpStage Bahamas Ltd. Launched just over a year ago, UpStage has created and provided furniture packages for more than two dozen properties. It has furnished sophisticated offices in Nassau, five high-end condominiums, including one at Ocean Club Estates, 19 mid-prized and starter home condos and a large private residence at The Balmoral.
This week, UpStage revealed its latest work - two show homes at Venetian West, a 211-unit gated community complete with pool, tennis court, clubhouse and other amenities just south of the Old Fort Bay Town Centre on Windsor Field Road.
Company co-directors Ashley Brown and Brooke Phillips, both licensed BREA real estate agents, founded Upstage to fill a gap in the residential sales market. They realized that in new construction and in sales of older homes, sellers often fail to dress the property properly.
"Ashley and I would go into a house that had just been listed and there were family photos, trophies, all sorts of personal effects. We'd look at each other and think, 'imagine if we could just get in here, move all this clutter, paint it neutral colors and show off the bones of this great place, its high ceilings or natural light or an interesting angle," said Phillips.
Brown and Phillips tossed around the idea of forming a company that would focus on the temporary interior display, the job known as staging. They both took courses and earned certification.
"Staging a property to show it off to its best advantage was in its early stages in The Bahamas and largely reserved for the well-to-do," said Phillips. "What we wanted to create was affordable staging. People get so used to living with what they have around them they don't see the potential. Our fresh eyes, I think, helped give us a new perspective in preparing a property for viewing. You wouldn't go to a party without dressing up, so wouldn't you want your home to be dressed up for company, especially when that company was a potential buyer?"
As they staged a few older homes, UpStage Bahamas founders Brown and Phillips realized there was an even greater need in an emerging market - the dozens, if not hundreds, of new condos and townhomes coming on stream. A deal to furnish a model unit at one of those, a development called Venito, led to success for both developer and staging company.
Buyers could see themselves living with the furniture exactly as they saw it, said Brown. That translated into sales for the developer and propelled UpStage to focus on a new direction, creating furniture packages that looked like luxury but were affordable and enabled buyers to move in with little more than a toothbrush and clothing.
"Buyers love that we are offering furniture packages because it alleviates the stress and hassle of the move-in process," said Brown, who holds a bachelors' degree in architecture, while her partner is an honors business graduate. "The service we provide paired with the option to finance the furniture is attractive. Buyers do not need to come up with extra cash to buy brand new furniture."
While freedom from furniture stress and the availability of financing are attractive incentives for buyers, the benefits for the developer may be even greater.
Brown continued: "It is important that developers understand the value in show homes and how a well-designed space is directly related to sales. It is difficult for buyers to envision themselves living in a home when they walk into an empty space. We really tried to compliment the developer's overall lifestyle vision by putting together two show homes that, although different in style, still encompass a contemporary way of living."
Prepping the space is not easy. With massive excel sheets in front of them to stick to budget, Brown and Phillips juggle everything from linens to mattress prices. They wrestle furniture, iron and hang curtains, design lighting, work with electricians, provide custom artwork of their own creation and it all becomes part of a financed package.
Hundreds saw the result of UpStage's work when they toured the two- and three-bedroom homes at Venetian West during a well-publicized open house last weekend.
"Condominium and multi-family developments are still relatively new in the grand scope of things to the Bahamian real estate market and a lot of buyers are latching on to this new trend," explained Brown. "What we are helping the buyer see and the developer sell is not just a furnished condo but a lifestyle people can see and feel," said the pair.
Technology, financial predictions, the maritime industry and entertainment are some of the key areas that will be tackled at this year's Bahamas Business Outlook (BBO).
The one-day conference now in its 21st year of existence is an initiative hosted by The Counsellors Ltd.
Counsellors president and BBO's chief organizer, Joan Albury, shared with Guardian Business yesterday that this year's seminar, under the theme, "Vision Beyond Sight: How ready is The Bahamas to do 21st Century Business", will feature 11 presentations from experts in their respective fields.
"We are confident that there is something here for everybody. These speakers will tackle topics from tourism to technology, energy to entertainment, from finance to forecasts about the economic future of our country," Albury shared.
"No doubt, these new speakers will add fresh, new perspectives to some key issues which challenge our country today. Given the long recession and its global impact, vision is essential if we are to climb out of it with the ability to continue our development."
Speaking on the country's vision is partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers Gowon Bowe.
Bowe gave Guardian Business a sneak peek into his presentation.
"As a young Bahamian, looking at what we want to be in the future is very important, especially one with young children. Starting to think about what my vision is for The Bahamas, immediately I reflected on whether an actual vision was properly laid out," he noted.
"In my mind, there hasn't been one within the last 40 years. Since then, have we done anything to enhance it. I believe it is pertinent to think about the 21st century going forward, as we are now more than 10 years into it. We also need to start thinking of how we want to define The Bahamas locally along with our international counterparts."
One reason for this, Bowe said, is Bahamian governments have not clearly defined an economic stance for the country.
"In most world economies, governments are clear as to whether they are capitalists or socialists. In The Bahamas, when you look at major political parties you tend to find them trying to be both, as opposed to choosing one," Bowe explained.
"On one hand, we want economic diversification and on the other, Bahamian governments want to be able to assist residents with benefits. There must be a stand on what a country's economic policy is. Then a course needs to be charted behind it. If we don't have a vision of where we want to go, how will we even know if we have arrived."
Local entertainer, Fred Ferguson is also one of Thursday's featured speakers.
"With The Bahamas being a tourism driven nation, it is almost a given that the country's entertainment sector should play a very important part of our growth and development," he said.
"Over the years, we have not done what we should have to develop the industry. Entertainment can be a very powerful thing. "
Other presentations include State Finance Minister Zhivargo Laing with the keynote address, Tourism and Aviation Minister Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace on "Looking Around the Corner", Astrid Wynter, the country's IDB representative on "Sustainable Partnerships for the Future" and Brian Moree, QC is presenting on "The Financial Services: A Wilderness Experience or Time to Enter the 'Promised Land'".
BBO takes place this Thursday at the Wyndham Nassau Resort from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE BAHAMAS is "well buffered" against any potential fallout from moves by American Eagle's parent to slash its workforce by up to 13,000, Tribune Business was told yesterday, the airline being among four-five carriers that each enjoy a 14 per cent share of seats coming into Nassau.
Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, minister of tourism and aviation, told Tribune Business that the strategy of diversifying airlift to the Bahamas as much as possible, so that this nation's tourism industry was not disproportionately reliant on one carrier, would insulate this nation if American Eagle's routes and service frequency from the US were impacted.