By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Baha Mar's president yesterday said the feared market "cannibalisation" with Atlantis has yet to occur, with Nassau enjoying record arrivals and airlines seeing 80 per cent "load factors".
Graeme Davis reiterated to Tribune Business that the hotel industry has "a very good opportunity" to grow the Nassau/Paradise Island tourism market provided it collaborates and works with the Ministry of Tourism and Promotion Board.
"I think the destination as a whole is improving," he said. "I don't think you're seeing the cannibalisation people expected between Atlantis and ourselves. Both of us are growing the market together.
"I think we'll grow the market together if we work together, the Ministry of Tourism and the Nassau/Paradise Island Promotion Board. If we all grow this market and work together we have a very good opportunity to ensure the market grows instead of being divided."
Fears that Baha Mar may split, rather than grow, the market for high-end visitors with Atlantis have been present ever since the $4.2 billion Cable Beach development was conceived in 2003-2005. Paul O'Neill, Atlantis's former top executive, publicly voiced such concerns during that period at a Bahamas Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Should such fears come to pass, it would create downward pressure on room rates at both New Providence's mega resorts and, potentially, other hotel properties, with none generating the profits they need to keep Bahamians employed and maintain a sustainable business model.
But Mr Davies, speaking ahead of the official opening for Baha Mar's Rosewood property, the last of its three hotel brands to open, said there was ample evidence to suggest that the 'cannibalisation' fears had so far proven unfounded.
"March was a record month in the history of Nassau on its arrivals," he told Tribune Business. "We're very pleased with the growth in airlift." He added that airlift capacity into Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) will continue to increase through the 2018 third quarter and into the winter season, as airlines move to provide the extra 314,000 seats per annum that are required to meet Baha Mar's net 2,300 room increase.
"Airlift, as far as seat capacity goes today, they're reaching into the 80 per cents as far as load factors. The airlines are seeing the demand we're having, and are very pleased," Mr Davies added.
Further support for the Baha Mar president's assertion for the lack of 'cannibalisation' to-date comes from Atlantis itself. Audrey Oswell, the Paradise Island resort's president and managing director, told Tribune Business last week that the property had enjoyed "one of the strongest first quarters in many years", revealing that business is "well ahead" of 2017 and 2016 numbers.
Some will likely argue it is too early to determine whether 'cannibalisation' will occur or not, given that Baha Mar only fully opened yesterday and it will take time for Rosewood's business to ramp up.
Mr Davies, though, said Baha Mar and its owner, Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE), were "very bullish on the future" amid expectations that Baha Mar's completion and opening will "refresh the destination" and attract new visitors that have previously never considered the Bahamas.
"From an ownership perspective and as a developer we are certainly seeing the future as being very bright for Baha Mar and the Bahamas," he told Tribune Business. "The commitment these world class brands are making [Grand Hyatt, SLS and Rosewood] to be in the Bahamas says there's a significant amount of confidence these brands have in the Bahamas.
"It's bringing a new customer that would not have come to the destination in the past, refreshing the destination. We certainly appreciative of the Government's support to make sure infrastructure continues to improve. The airport has improved over the past several years, and we've played a significant role in getting the airlift, and in the arrival and departure experience."
Mr Davies said Baha Mar represented "a catalyst for significant growth" in the tourism industry, with economic studies projecting it will generate just over 10 per cent of annual Bahamian gross domestic product (GDP) at full build out.
"You can see the impact it's making in job creation, indirect and induced jobs created, and airlift that is breaking and exceeding records," he told Tribune Business.