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Family Island Resorts Suffer Mixed Xmas

By NATARIO McKENZIE

Tribune Business Reporter

nmckenzie@tribunemedia.net

OCCUPANCIES at Out Island resorts for the Christmas period and into the New Year appear to be mixed, with one major property forecasting strong performance, while another said its guest business was in the

40-60 per cent range due to high airlift costs.

Jeremy Mutton, general manager at Sandals Emerald Bay in Exuma, told Tribune Business that the resort was anticipating a busy New Year. “We find that our busy time will be New Year’s,” he added.

“Being a couples only resort, that’s when couples come away. We are expecting a busy New Year holiday here. We are currently forecasting some high occupancies for the coming months.”

Mr Mutton noted that additional airlift would help to boost resort occupancies in the winter months. “There is a second Air Canada flight coming into Exuma everyThursday now,” he added.

“Delta at the end of this month is starting an additional flight on a Saturday, so that will be three direct flights a week from Atlanta. When you have that additional airlift as we do in the winter months it does help.”

“Current forecasts are looking quite healthy in terms of occupancy. We hosted the Mega Fam series over the last few months where we have been flying in all of the travel agents, Mr Mutton told Tribune Business.

“That investment appears to be paying off. We are seeing some pick up from those agents who attended and visited. The bad weather conditions being experienced in North America at the moment, as difficult as it is, can have a positive effect in terms of people wanting to travel and get away from the cold. I think a number of factors are making the coming months look healthy at the moment.”

Stephen Kappeler, general manager at the Treasure Cay Resort, told Tribune Business that while the resort was usually running at occupancies around 75-80 per cent for the holidays, it was currently running at about 40-60 per cent.

Mr Kappeler said this was due to “the high cost of airlift, and little or no competition for flights direct from the USA”. He added that airlift into Treasure Cay is limited to two weekly Bahamasair flights, on Mondays and Thursday from Nassau. There is no service from Freeport.

“Guests and residents are having to pay the price of an air ticket as a transfer each way from North Abaco at about $85 or more to get a transfer to Marsh Harbour airport. This is the same price as a ticket each way just to get to Nassau. So for North Abaco, when you do the math, it is twice as expensive,” said Mr Kappeler.

“We are optimistic that the success the new Nassau/Treasure Cay Monday and Thursday flights are experiencing will result in a Friday or Saturday hub flight to be added to promote seven-day, three and five-day vacations again into Treasure Cay, which will positively impact as many as five of our resorts and condo rentals.

“We are also hopeful to see that the successful leg of Bahamasair service from Palm Beach into Abaco be extended on Saturdays to Treasure Cay. Our association of resorts in North Abaco, combined with our Treasure Cay Home Owners Association, are hopeful to work with and promote interested airlift partner specials to enjoy the same success that Silver Airlines has found into Treasure Cay,” said Mr Kappeler. Michael Weber, general manager of the Bimini Big Game Club, told Tribune Business: “At this point for the New Year we are trying to be visible everywhere to get clients to book us.

“We have a couple groups booked for January along with a Light Sport Aircraft Fly (LSA), which will bring in some incredible aircraft from the US.

“From February 27 - March 1, we have our Wahoo Smackdown IV, which is building in its popularity,and April 24-27 we have the 1st ever NFL Hall of Fame Celebrity Billfish Tournament and will have 22 Hall of Famers at the Big Game Club competing for first prize.”

Mr Weber added: “Booking windows overall are very small these days so doing a 30, 60, 90 day forecast may seem bleak, but in the end turn out very good. Especially for our location so close to the US, we have many “last minute” travelers.

“Our biggest issue is how to get the customers to Bimini. In the winter, Silver Airways only flies three to four days a week, the Fast Ferry only comes three days a week depending upon weather and Tropic Ocean flies when they have capacity. Unless you have your own boat, that’s about it for getting over here but we are forging ahead in our continued efforts to bring tourism to Bimini and the Big Game Club.”

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