By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Cabinet minister last night said it was “pretty bloody remarkable” that The Bahamas’ forward bookings for November to January 2020 were only off 6.4 percent given Hurricane Dorian’s impact.
Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, told Tribune Business he was “not concerned at all” about the year-over-year slippage given that it paled in comparison to the 17 percent stopover arrivals share previously enjoyed by storm-ravaged Abaco and Grand Bahama.
He voiced optimism that the tourism industry’s forward booking pace would come in line with prior year comparatives “by the first quarter of 2020”, with forecasts indicating that the extent of the decline was reducing every month.
Based on data from Forward Keys, the Ministry of Tourism partner that analyses forward booking data from The Bahamas’ key visitor source markets in The Bahamas and the US, Mr D’Aguilar said the drop-off had fallen from 12.2 percent in September 2019 to 10 percent in both October and November.
The pace of decline is projected to slacken further to four to five percent for December, the Christmas month, with the New Year expected to bring forward bookings back close in line with early 2019 comparatives.
Mr D’Aguilar argued that the trend showed potential visitors were “shrugging off” negative Dorian-related news and planning to travel to islands unaffected by the storm, “although not at the scale we can overcome the shortfall created by Abaco and Grand Bahama’s tourism sectors being taken off-line.
“We must always remember that 17 percent of our foreign visitors went to Abaco and Grand Bahama,” he told Tribune Business. “If they were to melt away by themselves our arrivals would be down by 17 percent.
“The fact that we’ve managed to claw back those visitors to only be down by 6.4 percent on forward bookings is pretty bloody remarkable. What you’ll find is that November will be down by probably ten percent, and Christmas will be down by four to five percent, and January will be down by a decreasing percentage. We should see that the difference is getting smaller the further we move away from the storm.”
Mr D’Aguilar spoke out after a study by FowardKeys revealed that The Bahamas was one of the few Caribbean jurisdictions, together with the Dominican Republic and Aruba, to be showing a year-over-year decline in forward bookings for the November 2019 to January 2020 period compared to the prior year.
While The Bahamas’ drop-off was greater than Aruba’s 1.4 percent decline, it was less than half of the Dominican Republic’s 14.2 percent fall. And, had Dorian never happened, and Abaco and Grand Bahama maintained their 17 percent market share, it is possible that The Bahamas’ forward bookings could have been up 10.6 percent over 2018 for the same three-month period.
“I’m not concerned at all,” Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business. “You expect the numbers to be down because we’re missing inventory, missing Abaco, so it’s natural. You can’t get around that. It’s not like everybody going to Abaco shifted to another island in The Bahamas. A lot of them are second homeowners, very loyal and very focused on going to that destination.
“I’m not surprised, not worried. Abaco attracted 120,000 visitors last year and you have to redirect them to other islands. I’m not worried at all. We’re aware of the problem but are not overly concerned because the decrease in numbers is far less than what Abaco and Grand Bahama represented to stopover tourist arrivals.
“People are moving to other islands in The Bahamas, returning to islands that were impacted. The travelling public has shrugged off news about the hurricane and are coming to The Bahamas and other islands, although not at the scale that we overcome the shortfall experiences as a result of Grand Bahama and Abaco.”
Mr D’Aguilar said himself and senior Ministry of Tourism officials were “continuing to work the stump and get out on the road” to deliver the message to The Bahamas’ key source markets that this nation remains open for visitors on 14 of 16 islands.
He added that Joy Jibrilu, the Ministry of Tourism’s director-general, had been interviewed extensively by TV networks such as CNN during the week-long World Travel Market in London, while the minister himself will next week undertake a seven-day Canadian tour spanning markets such as Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto.
“Our core market is the US,” Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business, “and we’ve been inserting ourselves into as many TV shows as possible using as many channels to market as possible; going to shows like the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show and aviation shows, getting the message out to let people know The Bahamas is open for business.”
The ForwardKeys survey found that September air arrivals to Freeport and Marsh Harbour fell by 50.9 percent and 67.9 percent, respectively, when compared to prior year numbers due to Dorian’s impact.
Air arrival to Nassau were also down by 7.4 percent year-over-year, but those for Exuma and north Eleuthera increased by 10.6 percent and 30.7 percent, respectively. The ForwardKeys study also reiterated that The Bahamas is expected to recover much more quickly than the likes of Puerto Rico and St Maarten, with stopover arrivals returning to 80 percent of pre-storm numbers in just one month.
Ms Jibrilu said in a statement: “The Bahamas is an archipelago with more than 700 islands and cays, spread over 100,000 square miles of ocean. Because of our unique geography, a hurricane can impact some parts of the country but leave other parts untouched.
“That is the case with Hurricane Dorian. The majority of our country remains beautiful and palm-fringed, with unspoiled beaches in several shades of white and pink. We would like everyone to know that the best thing they can do for us right now is visit. Our beautiful island nation is ready to welcome you.”
Olivier Ponti, vice-president of insights for ForwardKeys, added: “What we have seen in recent years is that the Caribbean is an incredibly popular destination. When some parts of it have been hit with horrendous hurricanes and other issues, tourists did not give up on their desire for a holiday in paradise; they chose other parts of it to visit instead.
“We saw that syndrome earlier this year, when stories in the US media about tourists who had died in the Dominican Republic caused bookings to collapse;. However, other islands - most notably Jamaica, The Bahamas and Aruba - saw a visitor surge.”
proudloudandfnm 3 years, 6 months ago
LOL in Freeport we have a 100% drop off....
sweptaway 3 years, 6 months ago
As of yet no commercial flights in Abaco ! He must have gone to Bagdad Bob's school of propaganda
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