By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
A Bahamian resort general manager has had an “eye opener” over this nation’s relatively high air fare costs, saying these render complaints about expensive room rates almost academic.
Michael Weber, the Bimini Big Game resort’s general manager, told Tribune Business that if getting to the Bahamas is not more “economical, it doesn’t matter what our rates are”.
Returning from the recent Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA) conference in Jamaica, Mr Weber said it was “eye opening” to see a round-trip ticket to Jamaica cost half the price of his one-way ticket back to Bimini from Florida.
Added to that, Mr Weber said service levels in Jamaica were “very impressive”.
“As a hotelier I have to say that I was impressed. That’s one of the major competitors against us,” he told Tribune Business.
“The flight from Fort Lauderdale to Montego Bay was $266 round trip. My flight from Fort Lauderdale to Bimini was $402 one-way.
“It was an eye-opening experience. A 25-minute flight is great, but when you’re paying double for what you’re paying for an hour-and-a-half flight, people will take the hour-and-a-half flight. We have a lot of competition against us. They’re offering inexpensive flights and excellent customer service.”
While Sky Bahamas has announced plans to resume service to Bimini, and flights between the island and Fort Lauderdale, Mr Weber said that while the Resorts World cruise ship was extremely beneficial in terms of bringing guests in, limited airlift to any island destination ultimately drives up costs.
“One of the reasons the ticket was so expensive was because the cruise ship wasn’t going, Tropic Ocean Airways was full, and Silver Airways was the only other option. At $402, I’m sure a lot of people opted not to come at that price, but I had to get back to work,” Mr Weber told Tribune Business.
North Abaco resort operators recently expressed concern that their tourism sector was in danger of collapse over the lack of affordable airlift. The situation had been exacerbated when Bahamasair discontinued its service to Treasure Cay last September, leaving Fort Lauderdale-based Silver Airways as the primary carrier into the destination.
Bahamasair subsequently chose to relaunch the service, choosing to outsource it in order to save costs.
Commenting on the resumed service, Stephen Kappeler, the Treasure Cay Resort, Marina & Golf Club’s general manager, said: “The two current flights are seeing the volumes they need to ensure they are successful, and we are hopeful they will extend to a Friday, Saturday and or a Sunday, which would help ensure that three, five and seven-day air/passenger packages can be sold.
“So far, no movement to add the flights, but we are hopeful. We have collectively asked, as the PBI (West Palm Beach) to MHH (Marsh Harbour) flights are performing very well, with solid passenger loads, that they move at least one of the Saturday flights to Treasure Cay, as it is clear the heavy mix of North Abaco and 1,100 residents of Treasure Cay are the mix of seats from this area, with five resorts in the North to include condo resorts, and over 500 vacation home rentals inside our gate.
“Bahamasair management agreed to get to back to us and review this over a month ago, and I am hopeful to visit and meet with them during our next Bahamas Out Island promotion Board meeting scheduled the first week of February, as we venture into high season.”
Mr Kappeler added: “All of the charter services that fly into the Abacos are performing quite well, with the combination of moving people and packages, and so we are encouraged to see with our strong demand this service expand, and to include Treasure Cay.
We also know that when the new airport opens that a major carrier that strongly services the eastern seaboard and Florida, in Delta, would like to add service. For now, we are keen to see that at a minimum our Bahamian and international residents can find Hub service from Nassau and Grand Bahama, which enjoys a lot of affordable fares into both islands, then on to us.
“I should add that there is a huge Canadian base of visitors, and I believe there is a market for at least one direct flight into our Treasure Cay on a West Jet or other major carrier, and the resorts and villa rental owners here are keen to package their best lowest volume rates to see this encourage more direct traffic.”