BIMINI, Bahamas – The Genting Group, known for developing, operating and marketing resorts and casinos, has been working on new projects and expansions in the Bahamian island of Bimini to attract more tourists.
One of the biggest projects to ever come to the tiny island of is the Resorts World Bimini Casino. In one day on its Bimini Superfast Ferry, the visitors Genting can bring to the island is nearly equivalent to its population.
While some Bahamian officials and locals welcome the additional money and jobs to Bimini, others worry that the emergence of one of the largest casino operators in the world will have a devastating impact on the environment and forever change the island's rustic charm.
Bimini, located 50 miles east of Miami, is a legendary outpost for diving and deep sea fishing.
Most tourists head to the island in the summer months, but Genting's ferry changed that. It can power through the Gulf Stream and its choppy waters in the fall, delivering boatloads of tourists to the island during what is typically the off-season.
When arriving to Bimini, some head straight for the company's new casino and resort. Others take a tram to town.
"With the new ferry, we can look forward to tourism year round," said Prescott Young, who manages the Bimini tourism office.
"It makes Bimini more accessible and affordable," said Oscar Monroe, an island administrator. "It provides opportunities for the local Biminites"
Local business owners like Montez Saunders have stocked up on items tourists request most. She said that for 25 years, she relied on locals, but with this increase in business, she hopes to open a second store.
"Business is getting better because of the volume of people," she said.
A nearby restaurant, Edith's Pizza, is building a bigger deck to respond to the influx of tourists.
But both women said there is one problem with these new expansions: running water can sometimes be hard to come by.
"The load is really too heavy for what they are carrying right now," said Saunders, referring to the 300-room hotel under construction at Resorts World Bimini.
The company is considering a second hotel and expanding the casino.
Resorts World Bimini President Dana Leibovitz said the project will one day be sustainable on the island.
"We intend to work very closely with the Bahamian government," he said.
Leibovitz added that they will develop a master plan to fund water, electricity, and road improvements.
"Even with the amount of population that's on there now, it's probably underdeveloped in those areas," he said.
"Whatever comes to the island, it has to be done on a sustainable level," said Young.
Biminites seemed hopeful that the additional tourism won't overwhelm the beautiful and tranquil island atmosphere.