FREEPORT, Bahamas -- Although mega-resort developments dominate the hotel scene in the Bahamas, the priority is to maintain "a balance between necessary development for our people's economic prosperity and the cautious restraint necessary to protect our fragile environment," said Vernice Walkine, director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.

Walkine spoke at the 29th annual Caribbean Tourism Conference on Grand Bahama Island last month.

She said the fact that Grand Bahama Island withstood hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004 and Wilma in 2005 "is proof that the business of tourism is resilient."

"Grand Bahama has survived, and investor confidence has never been higher," Walkine said.

Indicative of that confidence is the 4,400-unit Ginn sur Mer resort community under development on Grand Bahama's West End; the renovation and 24-suite expansion at Old Bahama Bay Resort & Yacht Harbour, also in West End; and the marina expansion at Grand Bahama Yacht Club in Port Lucaya, which will include 300 slips for megayachts.

RockResorts back in the Caribbean

RockResorts, a luxury resort company based in Broomfield, Colo., will manage the $700 million, 870-acre Rum Cay Resort Marina on Rum Cay Island in the Bahamas. The project's development company is Montana Holdings, based in Nassau, Bahamas.

Rum Cay is 165 miles southeast of Nassau and about 40 miles east of Great Exuma, between San Salvador Island and Long Island in the Out Islands of the Bahamas. The island is ringed by a coral reef, offering snorkeling and diving opportunities.

Charter air service will be offered from Nassau and Fort Lauderdale to Rum Cay.

The appointment of RockResorts as the management company puts it back in the Caribbean, where the brand originally was created in 1956 by Laurance Rockefeller with the development of Caneel Bay on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Little Dix on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.

Rum Cay will be the first international addition to RockResorts since it was purchased by Vail Resorts in 2001.

RockResorts' current portfolio includes seven luxury properties in the U.S. Its eighth U.S. resort will open in November 2007.

Rum Cay Resort Marina is a three-phase development. The first phase, which began this summer, includes an 80-slip marina; the Port Santa Maria Marina Village, featuring shops, restaurants and sporting facilities; and a variety of residential units. 

The second phase will feature the 100-room RockResorts hotel, the Avanyu spa, 80 villas, private membership clubs and additional residences.

The third phase will include additional private homes and other amenities.

Resort plans also call for the addition of meetings space, restaurants, retail outlets, a pool, a fitness center, a range of activities and the expansion of the marina up to a total of 200 slips.

New Providence development

On New Providence, the 600-room, all-suite Cove Atlantis will open in March, as will a $700 million water park with water slides and Dolphin Cay, a dolphin lagoon and education center that will shelter rescued dolphins left homeless after Hurricane Katrina.

Also on New Providence is Baha Mar, the $1.6 billion redevelopment of Cable Beach in Nassau that includes a 3,550-room resort complex, which "is pushing New Providence to new heights," according to Walkine.

"Although the government's strategy of establishing anchor properties on major islands is often misunderstood for being one-dimensional and inappropriate for the Out Islands, the fact is that this strategy has proven successful," she said.

She cited the Four Seasons Resort on Exuma, which she described as "the catalyst to economic development."

On Great Exuma, the Emerald Bay Resort opened a casino and 72 Caribbean-style villas last May.

Cotton Bay Estates & Villas on Eleuthera will open the first phase of its villa units next fall.

Bimini Bay Resort & Casino on North Bimini recently opened 95 residential rentals in a development project that will include a Conrad Hotel and casino.

Along with the benefits accrued from economic development come "new business opportunities for Bahamians."

Walkine emphasized that the Bahamas' development plan is built on "a foundation of social justice."

"We are not seeking to make dollars and cents the only criteria for building new tourist facilities," she said.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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