By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Bimini Big Game Club has lost nearly 50 reservations, equalling “a few hundred” room nights, due to United Express/Silver Airways’ decision to suspend its services to the island following the temporary closure of the Bimini Bay Resort.
Michael Weber, Bimini Big Game’s general mamager, told Tribune Business the move has had a “ripple effect” on that island’s tourism industry.
Mr Weber told Tribune Business that the 51-room resort and marina’s occupancy levels were dismally low - less than 5 per cent - during what is known as the traditionally slow period in the tourist season.
“Bimini Bay announced that it was closing down for six to eight weeks, and United/Silver Airways followed suit,” Mr Weber said.
“We lost almost 50 reservations because of that. I don’t know how many room nights that would total. We have a timeshare outfit that we are working with where guests stay seven nights, Saturday to Saturday, and we probably had eight or ten of those that were just from the timeshare. Alone that’s 70 rooms nights right there.
“It probably equated to a couple hundred room nights. Right now we are very low; we are running at less than 5 per cent occupancy. What we have been doing is trying to target the snow birds coming from up north down to Florida during the fall and winter. We have been trying to target those folks, but if they can’t come here that’s a problem. Those folks don’t really have boats; they are the ones that would fly in and now they just can’t get in,” said Mr Weber.
The Bimini Bay resort had annoucned a seasonal closure effective on September 30 for a period of six weeks, with an opening on or before Novermber 15. During the closure, upgrades and improvements to various resort amenities, including the enhancement of several of food and beverage outlets and common areas, were to be undertaken.
A Silver Airways spokesman confirmed that the airline’s return to Bimini would coincide with Bimini Bay’s re-opening.
“With regard to the Bimini service, Silver Airways is enacting a temporary seasonal pull down, with service resuming November 15, 2012. At said time, the flight schedule will sport an improved schedule,” they said.
Mr Weber added: “Even if they had some empty seats and some losses, it’s a business. We have losses sometimes, so we can’t blame anyone else, it’s just that we have to work harder to get that business in.
“I have had to lay-off staff. You can’t just single out an island and say: ‘Hey, we’re not going to go there now and we’ll tell you when were going to go back’; that’s just not fair.
“We’ve purchased advanced tickets from them which we can’t even use now until they come back. It’s just not fair. It’s kind of a slap in the face to the people that are working so hard to bring tourists and business to this island. It impacts the water taxi service, the folks that work at the airport and the folks at the market, so it’s a ripple effect that really no one has addressed.
“It’s the slow season and we’re trying to change that to become a busier season. Right now we just have charters coming in and that’s about it. Now it’s even a bigger struggle to get business to the island and no one has really voiced anything about this.”
Mr Weber said he was working to help the Tropic Ocean Airways seaplane outfit gain more traction in the travel market. “I’m trying to help the sea plane get on the global distribution system, and that’s what gets you on all the traveling systems worldwide. That’s what gets you in all the travel agents systems worldwide, and once you get into the GDS then that’s what the third party sites like Expedia pull from. If we can get the seaplane on the GDS then they will show up on Expedia,” said Mr Weber.
He added that the seaplane operation has also had its share of challenges with regards to the $18,000 floating dock the resort purchased to accommodate direct arrivals and departures for guests.
“Right now the seaplane can’t go up the Chalks ramp because it’s not maintained at all. The plane has to pull up to it, and then you get off the plane and step into the water and step onto seaweed and fish heads to get up to the ramp. We’re trying to offer a more pleasurable experience to the guests where they pull up to the seaplane ramp and they walk off on to the ramp. We seem to be at a stalemate with getting any answers on approval from the authorities. We spent the money on it, built it, had it put together and shipped over,” said Mr Weber.
The resort is set to host the Bahamas Wahoo Smackdown, scheduled for November 15-17 which, according to Mr Weber, should give it a much-needed boost.
“We have about 10 boaters registered for that which is good for a first-time event, “ said Mr Weber.