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Bahamian beach hut owner believes RCI should be rejected for all-Bahamian project

The owner of a popular beach bar on Junkanoo Beach believes a Bahamian-owned beach club on Paradise Island would be a much better idea than allowing Royal Caribbean International (RCI) to develop a beach club on Paradise Island.

“I believe that it’s a great project, but I really, really believe that that’s a [project that should be done by a Bahamian],” said Byron Coley, founder of Tiki Bikini Hut.

“I have nothing against anybody wanting to do it, but I believe that we have the resources and ability to achieve it. It’s very simple to do.

“We’ve created this model, that model, basically; every time I hear about it, it is our model.

“Every time I hear about them saying they’re going to build a clubhouse and a beach experience, that’s what we have. We have a clubhouse and the beach experience.

“We have world class, we have everyone coming here from the Atlantis, the Baha Mar, Albany, and they come in and they give us a five-star rating.

“I’m saying to you to think about it. We’re asking a foreign company to come to The Bahamas to give visitors a Bahamian experience. I think that that itself is a kind of complex kind of oxymoron; it just doesn’t lend for me.”

Back in March, Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation Chester Cooper announced that the government has approved RCI’s $100 million beach club project for the western end of Paradise Island. 

He said RCI will not have equity ownership in any ferry business from Prince George Wharf to the site.

“Several key activities at the site, including water sports, entertainment, tours, food and beverage, retail, security, environmental monitoring and landscaping will be reserved principally for Bahamian entrepreneurs and businesses,” Cooper advised.

RCI had initially secured a lease which included a portion of the Crown land Bahamian Toby Smith had sought to develop a smaller beach club project. 

Under the Davis administration, RCI amended its proposal, cutting out the Crown land component that Smith is eyeing. 

Atlantis resort has raised concerns about the development, including environmental concerns.

RCI has said it will partner with businesses that may not yet be able to fully meet the needs of its Royal Beach Club project on Paradise Island, but are able to provide the bespoke service the operation needs.

However, Coley, whose Tiki Bikini Hut employs 80 people and helped transform Junkanoo Beach, believes a Bahamian could have owned the whole project.

“I believe we should certainly do the island, but we should think about doing it ourselves,” he said.

“We can do a public-private partnership. You can send out bids, you can do an architectural rendition and you can say, ‘who wants to run this?’

“Bring the criteria, bring the template of how you’re going to run this part of it and that part of it and bring people together, similar to a mall, to an outdoor mall, lease out the space and bring experts in every field together and replicate that on every beach.

“What you’re doing is empowering Bahamians, you’re giving them opportunities, and you’re creating wealth in your own country.

“… I spent all of my money right back in The Bahamas. Instead of a company coming in and taking out 80 percent of the profits, we’re going to have Bahamians leaving 80 percent of the profits. So, I think, in hindsight, for me, I believe that they should look at our model, and basically examine the possibility of allowing Bahamians to do it.”

Thirteen of the 17 acres of land RCI intends to develop its beach project on is land it acquired from private interests. 

Four acres are Crown land.