By NATARIO McKENZIE
GRAND Bahama is poised for “way better” than one million visitors in 2014, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe said yesterday, telling Tribune Business that the island could see its “best year since 1991”.
“I feel very good about Grand Bahama,” he said. “There a few things we are doing that we can’t announce yet. Grand Bahama is going to see its best year.
“I believe that 2014 is going to be the best year it’s had since 1991. That year we exceed more than 1 million visitors. I think next year is going to be way better than that.”
Mr Wilchcombe added: “Sunwing is going to be the driving force. Atlantis served as the during force for Nassau, and that’s what Sunwing is going to be for Grand Bahama.
“Hutchison Port Holdings, the Government and Canada-based Sunwing Travel Group signed an agreement on October 17, 2012 to reopen the former Reef Village property. You must appreciate that they have their own airlift, and the fact that they are brining a significant amount of airlift per week is going to add significantly to the fact that your inventory levels will be high.”
Acknowledging that the opening of the 497-room Memories Grand Bahama Beach & Casino Resort will not take place in time for the busy Christmas season, but will now open in mid-January 2014, Mr Wilchcombe said there was “no cause for alarm”.
The Ministry of Tourism is set for a big promotional campaign in Canada at the end of the month, and he added: “Work is going on well. The promotion efforts are going on well. Bookings already appear strong. I will be in Canada at the end of the month, on November 28, for a major promotion.”
Starting on January 16, 2014, Sunwing will be offering weekly winter service from Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Edmonton to Freeport along with year-round flights from Toronto.
Mr Wilchcombe said Grand Bahama’s airlift should get an added boost when Delta begins its direct service on December 16.
Looking at the broader picture of overall visitor arrivals for the Bahamas this year, Mr Wilchcombe said: “We will see some deficit in airlift but we knew that because we lost some of the airlift when Spirit Airlines pulled out, we took out Vision Air, and so we knew that.
“There was a reduction in Jet Blue flights as well. I think we have a solid approach to getting our numbers back up. I think, beginning Thanksgiving weekend, we will see a slow increase that will accelerate us toward having one of the best years ever next year.
“We have record numbers for cruise arrivals. Last week we had five or six ships in on two occasions. Those numbers are always going to be good, but our job is to get more airlift. We have to ensure that we get rid of certain things. We have to get rid of the slow days and we have to get rid of the traditional slow months.”