By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
SOME 1,100 workers in the tourism industry are unemployed, and the closure of the two major hotels has resulted in an inventory shortfall of 1,024 rooms in Grand Bahama, according to a Freeport tourism official.
Betty Bethel, director of the Ministry of Tourism in Grand Bahama, reported that airlift has been significantly affected due to the lack of room inventory.
The closed 482-room Memories Grand Bahama Beach Resort and the 545-room Breaker’s Cay section of the Grand Lucayan Resort, represents an inventory shortfall of 40 per cent, she said.
Ms Bethel was speaking on the topic, “The State of Tourism on Grand Bahama Island,” at the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Wednesday.
The tourism executive reported that the destination has lost the bulk of its winter programme, which has been reduced from nine gateways to just two - Toronto and Montreal.
“Additionally, the summer programme, which would have commenced May 25 from 13 US gateways via Vacation Express, a subsidiary of Sunwing Vacation, has also been lost due to the reduction in hotel inventory,” she explained.
“You are aware Treasure Bay Casino is closed because of the hurricane, and coincidentally the expiration of their operator’s extension agreement also came about, and they have moved on. So in summary, we have 1,100 industry workers that are back on the unemployment line,” she said.
On the other hand, Ms Bethel shared some positive news, including the $4 million upgrade of the reopened Viva Fortuna All inclusive Beach Hotel, where occupancies are 90 per cent and higher.
She reported that Viva is also expecting the Alpatour Italian Charter to return in June. “That will keep occupancy high as well into December,” she added.
Other properties that are open for business are the 198-room Lighthouse Point, which has had some sold out dates; the 186-room Pelican Bay Resort and Suites; the 118-room Castaways Resort has completed repairs; the 198-unit Island Seas Resort; the 70-room Old Bahama Bay Marina and 32-room Blue Marin Cove in West End; the 65-room Ocean Reef Resort; and the 31-room Bell Channel Inn.
Ms Bethel also noted that the island’s tours and attractions are all up and running post Hurricane Matthew.
“I would like to think that we are not in a bad state of affairs,” she told businesspersons who were not convinced of her viewpoint.
Ms Bethel said that the goal now in tourism is to return to the 4,000 room inventory during the period of 2000 and 2002 when air arrivals stood at 300,000 plus.
“Our benchmark is not to return to the 2,500 rooms and 178,000 arrivals achieved after the Sunwing partnership,”
She noted that the period of 2000 to 2002 represented a renaissance period in tourism for Grand Bahama.
“If (you) must look back, it has to be to this period of branded hotel product, and hosting internationally known event like ABC’s televised superstar athletic challenge,” recalled the tourism executive.
“As difficult as it may seem to digest, Hurricane Matthew has prevented an opportunity for Grand Bahama and Grand Bahamian stakeholders to return to industry sustaining practices that we strayed away from that have a proven track record.
“That was the time when we were in excess of 200,000 air arrivals. We must be prepared to compete and win delivering satisfying destination experiences to each other and arriving guests, and we have to start today,” she said.