Infrastructure requires long-term vision

Infrastructure
projects must be built on a long-term vision, with an eye on population and
economic growth over 10 to 15 years.

That’s the
view of expert Hugh Darley, speaking at the Caribbean and Hotel Trade
Investment Conference at San Juan, Puerto Rico last week.

Mr. Darley
said that vision plans had to be long-range. His company, International Design
and Entertainment Associates, deals with project design, cruise port
development and project management. He told delegates that creating brand
destinations had infrastructure implications and a vision plan must take into
account socio-economics as well as other matters outside a project scope.
Whilst a master plan might talk about the size of a car park, number of rooms,
proximity to highway and other physical aspects of a location, a vision plan
had a wider set of implications, he said.

“It talks
about the impact it has on the culture, the history, the legacy and the brand
of the country. [It’s also important to] integrate authentic personality and
essence into each destination.

“[At this
conference we have heard about Brand Caribbean], but once you get people to the
Caribbean you’ve got to make sure that your infrastructure and your locale is individual
to your own island so they ask for you by name,” explained Mr. Darley.

Three-pronged

He said that
the company employed a three-pronged approach. That was to integrate the hospitality
and niche of tourism with the local community and make sure that the
infrastructure that was planned was not just for the guests but also to help
the community to grow. An important part of that was taking consideration of
such matters as water, waste and electricity.

“It’s very
much a public-private partnership. Some developers have a hard time
understanding that you come to an island which is a remote destination but you
can’t stop your services at the property line. Unfortunately, to get to those
services you might be going a great distance outside of your property line and
many times the financial community has not supported that infrastructure cost.

“But your
revenue per available room is not very good if you don’t have power, you don’t
have water or you don’t have sanitary services, so these infrastructure services
go a lot further than just the outline parcel of your property as a developer,”
he said.

Mr. Darley
said that his company does a lot of business with cruise, and that when a
cruise ship comes into port in many cases the infrastructure could not cope with
the large number of vessels or the capacity required. He said that looking
after the quality national infrastructure was crucial in making sure that visitors
would have a top quality experience in the Caribbean.

“The
all-inclusive concept has had its heyday and what you’re finding is that people
get on the internet, go on social media sites, and they want to be independent
travellers. They come to the Caribbean and
they want to walk out of their hotel and go somewhere. We need to make it safe,
convenient and an environment they feel comfortable in.

“Actual
strategic long-term vision plans allow the financial community internationally
to see that somebody knows where they are going. A country without a vision
plan is a country that doesn’t know where they’re going so how do you convince
somebody to put in a long-term investment? Somebody putting in $150 million for
a hotel is not looking to make a return in three years; they’re in it for the
long-term and if the government changes every two years [it makes it difficult],”
he noted.

The executive
continued that governments needed to understand that there was a Point A, and a
Point B, to a vision plan, and that developers should not have to go to thirty
different points in-between depending on which government they were working
with.

Nassau Airport

Frank Comito,
deputy chairman of the Airport Authority and Nassau Airport Development Board,
made a subsequent presentation in which he described the ideas behind both the
refurbishment of Nassau
Airport and the downtown
seaport project in the Bahamanian capital.

He said that
the airport was run down and handled 3 million passengers per year. A lease to
operate, maintain and develop the current airport was put out to open bidding,
with the initial focus being on refurbishing the current airport facility with
a strong emphasis on customer service. 85 per cent of visitors are from the United States,
he said, so one of the key initiatives had been pre-clearance on departure.
This meant that the facility had gone from six security points to one and a
half, improving passenger flow and freeing up space for around a dozen kiosks,
restaurants and retail outlets. The spruced-up facility has improved customer
experience, he said.

The airport
will be developed in several phases, continued Mr. Comito, and eventually would
have three separate terminals: one for US departures, one for international
departures and a combined international and domestic departure facility. This
would be achieved by a financing of $250 million which had been secured during
the recession through a combination of local and international investment. The
developers are independent of government, he said, but certain things within
the management agreement needed government approval.

There will be
a passenger facility charge and a marginal increase in landing fees, he said,
and an aggressive training programme was underway to ensure that eventually a
majority of the senior staff would be Bahamian.

“It’s private
sector. Government is not running or developing our airport. They came to the
realisation a number of years ago that they should not be in that business. We
have other family island airports and ultimately there’s a view that they can
be privately managed as well,” said the developer, who said that the destination
had added 400,000 extra seats.

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