By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
NASSAU and Paradise Island still need an additional 100,000-seat increase in airlift capacity within the next three to four months to satisfy the demand for all of the current hotel properties and those set to come on stream according to Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe.
Mr Wilchcombe told Tribune Business that the Ministry of Tourism was still looking to drive more airlift into Nassau and Paradise Island as well as several of the major Family Islands.
“Right now we are satisfied. Up to this point we have the required airlift but we have to find an additional 100,000 seats within the next three to four months based on hotel inventory. That will of course mean Atlantis, the hotels on Paradise Island, those on West Bay, the hotels on Cable Beach and the hotels in the south as well.
“We have opened new gates and and there are gates that we are assessing and I believe you are going to see a greater increase in the number of seats that that will come from the traditional airlines, be it Delta or American Airlines.”
Tourism and hotel industry stakeholders had estimated in the past that a 400,000-seat increase in airlift capacity into the Bahamas would be needed for Baha Mar’s opening with its more than 2,000 hotel rooms.
Nassau Airport Development Company CEO Vernice Walkine told Tribune Business: “With respect to airlift, we look forward to the opening of Baha Mar and the additional demand for air service that the mega resort will likely generate. Our airlift strategic group - which includes the Ministry of Tourism, Baha Mar and the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board - continues to work closely with existing air carriers to increase their airlift into Nassau and with new airlines to expand their routes.
“The responses by the airlines have been very positive and there is certainly a willingness to expand capacity into Nassau once airlines see demonstrated demand from Baha Mar.”
Mr Wilchcombe said that discussions were underway with several charter services to generate more night time traffic at the Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA).
“We are discussing with a few carrier services because one of the concerns that I have is that our airport is idle at night time. We could utilise the airport and airspace more in the night time for charters because otherwise the airport sits idle and we still have to pay the bills.
“We’re in discussions now with airlift out of Latin American and we are discussing with the Chinese airlines whether or not we can do a joint connectivity with say Cuba later this year so that we can have a Cuba/Bahamas run where they come direct from China or maybe even from Panama to The Bahamas.
“We are working on a number of new opportunities because we need more seats into The Bahamas. In addition to that you must remember the Family Islands. Bimini has airlift and it needs more airlift because of the fact that 200 hotel rooms will be opening later this month in Bimini.
“The same goes for Abaco and also Eleuthera and the major islands. Grand Bahama is holding its own right now based on the available inventory. We had more seats than we needed at one point because they had to open an additional 100 rooms at the Grand Lucayan, the Lighthouse although that’s been closed just to assist with the accommodations.
“The airlift is there but we have to continuously increase based upon markets. To maintain the trek that we’re on we have to ensure that we’re on the ground talking to people and getting more business into The Bahamas and sustaining it. We’re comfortable today but we are working assiduously to get more airlift to The Bahamas.”