By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
Some 45-50 per cent of the Bahamas’ tourism market is being negatively impacted by Hurricane Sandy’s US east coast impact, Tribune Business was told yesterday, shuting down two-way airlift between that area and this nation.
Tourism director-general, David Johnson, said Hurricane Sandy was still a concern for the industry having forced a shutdown of the US east coast, adding that “45-50 per cent of our business is impacted by the East Coast”.
“Notwithstanding our airlift, many of our passengers who come to the Bahamas from the northeast do so via Florida, although there are some flights like Delta that come non-stop from places like New York,”
“Almost 50 per cent of our passengers are on flights that come via Florida, although they live in the north-east, so it’s very significant. The impact of the north-east to our business is in the neighbourhood of almost 50 per cent. Forty-five plus per cent to 50 per cent of our business is impacted by the east coast, north of the Carolinas.”
Meteorologists have warned that the New York City region could face the worst of Hurricane Sandy, which has forced evacuations along the East Coast, the shutdown of financial markets and mass transit. New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore and Boston all lie in the storm’s target zone.
“Obviously with the storm having forced the closure of airports along the US east coast, areas like New York and Washington, it is a concern to us,” Mr Johnson said.
“We hope that it moves at a faster pace. In these matters one has to deal with the cards played, but the impact will be significant. Our hotels policy on cancellations remains the same.
“We hope that persons can be accommodated, and that they will be able to rebook and still take their trip in the weeks ahead. The fallout and the impact is yet to be known. I can’t quantify it at this time. We will have a better idea after Sandy exits the northeast.”
Robert Sands, senior vice-president of governmental and executive affairs at Baha Mar, told Tribune Business that the impact of the storm on the tourism industry could be minimal given the Bahamas Hotel Association’s (BHA) policy regarding cancellations, and the fact it is traditionally the slowest period in the tourist season.
“We certainly hope that this whole event is over fairly soon. The industry’s position remains the same, that there may be some impact on customers travelling in, but there is a similar impact of customers not being able to leave,” Mr Sands told Tribune Business.
“In a way, one cancels out the other. There is a Bahamas Hotel Association cancellation policy in effect. We are reasonably satisfied that a number of customers will rebook. This may not be totally lost business for the destination.”
Mr Sands added: “It’s also important to note that this is happening at a traditionally slow, off-peak time, and also in the earlier part of the week which is the slower part of the week versus the weekend travel.
“Notwithstanding that, there will be some impact. I think it would be mitigated by the time of the year and the time of the week, and the fact that we have a policy in place that allows persons to rebook. A number of persons have indicated that they will do so. We remain in the position that the impact will, in fact, be minimal, but it’s unfortunate because any impact is not a good thing.”
The BHA is set to undertake a survey of member properties today to calculate Sandy’s overall impact on the sector and bookings.
The BHA said in a statement yesterday: “On the whole, the impact of Hurricane Sandy on hotel properties throughout the Bahamas appears to be minimal, and most hotels throughout the Bahamas are now fully operational.
“Several Family Island hotels, which normally close briefly during this time of the year, report a slight delay in reopening to allow time for cleaning up and repairing minor damage.”
Construction, meanwhile, has resumed at the $2.6 billion Baha Mar expansion, with Sandy having caused no major damage.