In 1974, it wouldn’t have been the first time, in the history of the Bahamas, that the government had gone, in wholesale fashion, into the hotel business. ‘Desperate times, call for desperate measures,’ as the saying goes. It only could have been very desperate times, for then Prime Minister, Lynden Pindling, to stake $20,000,000, to buy three, loss-making, hotels on Cable Beach.
Despite global critical stares, predictions of doom, and fears of a Haiti/Cuban style turn for the Bahamas, negro Prime Minister Lynden Pindling seemingly had passed the leadership and confidence tests, set hard for him by America, England and Home.
But, the national economy, soon took Pindling and his PLP government, for a rollercoaster ride of successes and failures. It would eventually even fracture relationships within the party itself.
No one could have predicted 1974.
A Twenty Million Dollar Government Loan underwritten by the Bank of Nova Scotia
Just one year after the July 10th 1973 Independence celebrations, Pindling and the PLP government were facing critical level economic challenges. A soft economy, hotel unions threatening strikes, shaky confidence in a newly independent Bahamas, strong competition from other tourist destinations, the growing domination of Paradise Island as a tourist mecca and problems with the dollar, all created the perfect economic storm which ripped through Cable Beach, like a vicious tornado.
(The Tribune, Nassau, 31 January 1974)
This perfect economic storm, tore through the already struggling and ageing tourist area out west. Hotel time ran differently from ordinary time. Without new attractions, constant refurbishment and working capital to afford amenities, hotels can age quickly. The calibre of tourists, can suddenly go from first class to budget, overnight.
Operators were exhausted, as they watched for four years running, losses creeping higher and higher. Cable Beach had seen more spectacular times, that’s for sure. Now with a newly constructed bridge between Paradise Island and Nassau, tourists were increasingly drawn to the Las Vegas offerings of Resorts International, formerly The Mary Carter Paint Company.
Cable Beach watched its profits drive over Paradise Island Bridge, in air conditioned taxis.
(The Tribune, Nassau, Friday 04 January 1974)
Pindling’s Bahamianization push had also angered many hoteliers. No longer were they able to bring in foreign staff without incurring longer wait times for work permits, under heavily enforced, stricter government approvals. Black Bahamians needed jobs.
(The Tribune, Nassau, Friday 04 January 1974)
Foreign operated hotels were still hiring foreign secretaries, chefs, butlers, golf caddies, tennis coaches and even life guards claiming that there was no one locally who could fulfil the requirements of these jobs. Hotels were forced to hire Bahamians. This they did not like. Black faces were beginning to appear in unexpected places, in various levels. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, tourists to Nassau, if truth be told, weren’t entirely comfortable with it either.
Already, by the early summer of 1974, the Emerald Beach Hotel, a 21 year old dinosaur fixture on Cable Beach, had closed half of its rooms and fired half of its staff. Emerald Beach was operated by the Hyatt International Group for owners Corrigan Enterprises.
The Balmoral, owned by Court Lines of Britain, was watching its profits fall into the red. There were plans being floated to turn it into a hospital.
Then there was the Sonesta Beach Hotel, a four hundred bedroom complex which opened in 1971. Sonesta, owned by Leisure Time Ltd., had notified staff that if the deal with Pindling didn’t go through, the doors were set to close on August 3, 1974.
They all had had enough.
All three hotels had given notice. They were closing.
Sonesta, Balmoral and Emerald Beach knew they had Pindling in a vice grip. Collectively, they banded together, and were squeezing hard.
(The Miami News, Thursday 01 August 1974)
When Pindling made the final decision, the Opposition FNM Party and even backbencher PLPs, were vehemently against the measure, to buy the hotels. Carlton Francis (PLP) abstained from voting as it involved casino gambling as part of the bill.
To some, it was like giving into economic blackmail.
(The Tribune, Nassau, Friday 02, August 1974)
To Pindling, the measure was deeper and more personal than anyone could have realised. Pindling has made promises to hundreds and hundreds of poverty stricken, grassroots supporters from Grants Town to East Street.
He had made fevered and foolish promises to help them now, not later. Voters were not going to let him forget it. Thousands were expecting miracles to be happen, literally overnight.
Pindling himself, a nobody kid from East Street, who grew up barefoot, and going to the street pump for water, couldn’t let the foreign owners close their doors putting untold numbers out of work. He hated being checkmated into a corner box.
Pindling called their bluff.
The boy from East Street, who never dreamt, he could ever have such monumental decisions resting on his shoulders, made his move.
(The Tribune, Nassau, Friday 02 August 1974)
Sonesta Beach comprising 400 rooms on approximately 9 acres of land bought at $10.6 million.
Emerald Beach comprising 386 rooms on 23 acres bought at $4.8 million.
Balmoral Hotel comprising 145 rooms and 10 villas, totalling 200 rooms on 14.5 acres bought at $3.8 million.
The government was now in the hotels business.
Foreign hotel operators and expat private business owners, across the Bahamas, were quick to predict disaster. The government had no experience or expertise in running hotels. It had none really. But Pindling, Clement Maynard, Minister of Tourism, and Franklyn Wilson, then MP for Grants Town and others, said that the only way for the government to show confidence in its own tourist product, was to save it from implosion.
(The Naples Daily, Sunday 04 August 1974)
A new public corporation, Bahamas Hotel Corporation, was born.
More millions had to be spent to modernise Cable Beach.By 1979, six major hotels in Nassau and Freeport, would be government owned and Bahamian operated. By 1979, the new and spectacular Freeport International Bazaar would be born.
By 1979, the Bahamas Government were fully fledged experienced hoteliers and casino operators.