Tourism eyes New Year 'bounce back'

Tourism and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.

Tourism and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.


Tribune Business Editor


The Bahamas is on target for a New Year “bounce back” post-Dorian with first quarter stopover tourists up two to four percent compared to 2019’s record, a Cabinet minister revealed yesterday.

Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, told Tribune Business he was “encouraged” by projections indicating that the fall-off in hotel-based arrivals to The Bahamas following the category five storm represents a temporary “dip” rather than the start of a long-term trend.

While stopover visitors, the higher-spending portion of The Bahamas’ tourism market, are currently forecast to be down nine percent for the 2019 fourth quarter, Mr D’Aguilar said the decline was less than Abaco and Grand Bahama’s share of this market segment pre-Dorian.

Disclosing that land-based visitors were down eight percent year-over-year for September, the minister added that arrivals numbers had rebounded during the final weeks of the month following a 19 percent drop-off in the immediate aftermath of Dorian’s arrival in The Bahamas.

Mr D’Aguilar said the Ministry of Tourism had brought forward its marketing and public relations spending to help counter global perceptions that Dorian had devastated the entire Bahamas, and reinforce the message that 14 of its 16 islands remain open for visitors.

He added that there had also been a “double digit” increase in incoming airlift to New Providence and the rest of The Bahamas, with both the Ministry and its private sector partners investing significantly to “drive load factors” and ensure there was sufficient visitor demand for the extra seats.

Speaking after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) slashed its growth forecast for The Bahamas by 50 percent in Dorian’s wake, Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business: “Certainly, as we enter the first quarter of next year, we see a decrease transforming into a small increase, which is encouraging.”

Based on data from Forward Keys, the Ministry of Tourism’s data partner, which which tracks and reports inbound visitor data from key markets, the minister said stopover arrivals for the 2020 first quarter - which includes much of the key winter season’s peak - are projected to “be up in the low single digits - two, three, four percent” despite facing stiff prior year comparatives.

“I’m quite encouraged by that because, first of all, the decrease has stopped, and second, remember 2018 was a record year, then 2019 was a record year in the first quarter, so to see a slight increase in the 2020 first quarter is quite encouraging.”

Mr D’Aguilar hailed this as a further sign of tourism’s “resilience”, pointing to how quickly the sector had recovered from previous storms, and said: “In all instances we bounced back. I’m very optimistic; yes, this is a little dip, but we will bounce back in the first quarter of next year.”

Given that tourism, directly and indirectly, accounts for around 50 percent of all Bahamian activity, the projected increase in early 2020 stopover arrivals provides some optimism that this nation may at least mitigate the 0.6 percent economic contraction that the IMF is projecting next year (see other article on Page 1B).

Higher-yielding stopover visitors typically spend around $1,500 per head in The Bahamas, compared to estimates of between $90-$140 for their cruise counterparts, and Mr D’Aguilar said the projected “dip in visitor arrivals” for the remainder of 2019 underscored why the IMF is forecasting a hit to GDP growth.

With the Dorian-ravaged islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco accounting for 11 percent of The Bahamas’ record stopover arrivals growth for the year to end-August, the minister said it was simply impossible to replace that contribution in the short term.

“Having lost that inventory it’s very hard to replace that,” he told this newspaper. “Obviously, and as a result, this has translated into a reduction of around 9 percent for stopover visitor arrivals for the last quarter of 2019; the more lucrative portion of the market.

“Forward Keys is suggesting we will be between 8-10 percent down for the fourth quarter of this year in stopover arrivals, which contrasts with the 13.2 percent increase in stopover arrivals for the first eight months of this year.”

Recalling Dorian’s immediate impact, Mr D’Aguilar added: “Stopover arrivals were down 19 percent for the first two weeks of September but, overall for the month, there was a bounce back in the last part of September.

“Overall, the month of September was down 8 percent, which was understandable, as Abaco and Grand Bahama were providing 11 percent of the stopover arrivals. With those two destinations being impacted by the storm it’s reflecting itself in a decrease in stopover arrivals.

“September and October are comparatively slow months. We were expecting it [September] to be up in the high single digits, and in October, but because of the storm that’s resulted in this 8 percent decrease.”

The 2019 fourth quarter includes the key Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, but the 9 percent stopover decrease cited by Mr D’Aguilar is likely to largely reflect business destined for Grand Bahama and Abaco rather than any major effect on the Nassau/Paradise Island resort industry and other Family Islands.

Still, to counter such trends, Mr D’Aguilar said: “The Ministry of Tourism has brought up its spending a little bit earlier than it typically would have done; some of its marketing and PR budget to get the word out there that the whole country has not been impacted by the storm.

“Right now, 14 out of 16 destinations are open, and as Abaco and Grand Bahama begin to get some inventory back, we will get the message out there... There’s also been a double digit increase in air seat capacity, so a lot of marketing dollars are going into driving load factors on these planes. All that increases arrivals into the country.”


John 3 years, 7 months ago

At least now D’Aguilar has an excuse for a decline in tourist numbers. How much of the tourism increase was a windfall from the devastation that occurred in the Caribbean due to hurricanes as opposed to The Bahamas growing its own numbers and attracting its own visitors. But the goal should be now to keep every available hotel room occupied and getting the cruise ships back to hurricane damaged areas as soon as possible. At least to generate enough funds to keep the economy going while recovery takes place. And then maybe the cruise tourism model needs to be revised so as to generate more revenue for the country and not just for cruise lines.


bahamianson 3 years, 7 months ago

Should have been on top of this the day after the hurricane. I am not the minister , but I was outrage about the lack of geographical intelligence the international partners lacked. It seems that they were not interested in learning about our local geographics. It was like a person sending you a card but spelling your name wrong.Difference is, they were supposed to be professionals. You don't make these kinds of mistakes, you check before you speak. I had to constantly explain to my friends that Abaco and Grand Bahama are two islands not the entire Bahamas. The ministry of the Bahamas should have known better. This is not our first hurricane unfortunately.


Well_mudda_take_sic 3 years, 7 months ago

To the average North American, Bermuda, Barbados, Barbuda, Bahamas, etc. are all the same. They are not too worldly and truly ignorant when it comes to geography.


Sign in to comment