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Minister Moves To ‘Arrest Double Digit Booking Fall’

Tourism and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.

Tourism and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Minister of Tourism yesterday said he is quickly moving to “arrest the double digit decrease” in forward visitor bookings post-Dorian with some hotels suffering a 20-40 percent fall-off.

Dionisio D’Aguilar told Tribune Business that he had spent an entire day at this week’s 40th International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) general assembly “getting the message out that 14 of 16 islands are unscathed and open for business” in the category five storm’s wake.

Revealing that he will do similar with the US media and travel industry when he begins a three-day stop in New York today, Mr D’Aguilar said “we don’t like” the decline in forward bookings but it was not unexpected given global media coverage of Hurricane Dorian’s devastating impact on Grand Bahama and Abaco.

With many “geographically challenged” about The Bahamas, and unaware that numerous other islands and experiences remain open, he added that his ministry was “trying to draw the analogy” that a storm hitting New York or Toronto would not deter visitors from travelling to Washington DC or Montreal.

Mr D’Aguilar, though, conceded that Abaco and Grand Bahama collectively draw 1.1m visitors to The Bahamas, of whom 200,000 are in the higher-yielding stopover category spending around $1,500 per visit.

He added that Abaco, in particular, was “a very important market for us” due its status as a vacation rental and second home destination. The minister expressed hope that “at least some” of the 200,000 stopover visitors would shift to other islands, but acknowledged this would be easier to achieve with the 900,000 cruise passengers and boating visitors.

Speaking to Tribune Business from Canada, where the ICAO summit was held, Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business: “The position is we need to get the message out that 14 of 16 island destinations are unscathed and open for business.

“There have been double digit decreases in forward bookings, which is normal after a storm, normal after a shock, and Grand Bahama and Abaco have essentially been taken out as potential places for visitors to come to.

“We naturally expect there to be a decrease, but we wanted to arrest that decrease, contain that decrease, which has resulted from the reporting of the storm in key markets.”

While unable to provide figures for the forward bookings decrease suffered by the Bahamian hotel and tourism industry in Hurricane Dorian’s aftermath, Mr D’Aguilar said: “If you listen to one or two of the hotels, they’ll tell they’re in the 20-40 percent range of decline in forward bookings in destinations not impacted by the storm.

“We don’t like it [the decrease] but we expected some fall-out from the hurricane because most people are geographically challenged about The Bahamas. What we’ve been saying is that there are 550 miles from Grand Bahama in the north to Inagua in the south, and the country covers 100,000 square miles.

“What one finds is that if you imagine the storm to have impacted Toronto, would that necessarily stop you from having a vacation in Montreal? If you have a storm hitting New York, would that stop you taking vacation in Washington D. C.? We’re trying to draw that analogy.”

Mr D’Aguilar said he met with the Canadian media and about 100 travel agents while attending the ICAO general assembly to drive home this message, and he plans to do similar with the same professional groupings while in New York.

“There’s been this enormous amount of negative PR created by reporting of this storm by international media,” he reiterated. “There was this perception that The Bahamas - from top to bottom - had been damaged, and we were suffering significant and dire consequences from this storm.

“Tourism has divided the country into 16 different destinations, and the message for the media and travel agents to pass on to their customers was: ‘Yes, we were struck by a major storm that wreaked severe damage on two of them, but 14 of them emerged from Dorian relatively unscathed and are open to receive your business.

“We’ll have to get the message out that the country is not completely destroyed and is open for business. I think then that the message will begin to resonate fairly quickly.”

Mr D’Aguilar said his briefings were also intended to support Air Canada’s increased airlift to The Bahamas, with its flights rising from two to four per week and opening up the Montreal as well as Toronto market to this nation’s tourism industry.

He voiced optimism in the Bahamian tourism industry’s resiliency, noting that it had shown it was capable of rebounding quickly in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks, 2008-2009 recession, and countless previous hurricanes.

“We think tourism is a very resilient industry,” Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business. “It’s subject to a lot of shocks, but it recovers very quickly. If you think about it we had Joaquin in 2015, we had Matthew in 2016, we had Irma in 2017, and now Dorian in 2019.

“It does have some shocks to the system, but has remained relatively resilient and bounced back very quickly.”

Comments

Well_mudda_take_sic 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Meanwhile we've got our Haitian blooded Minister of Foreign Affairs, Darren Henfield, and our 'Triple D Size' PM Minnis in NYC, no doubt accompanied by spouses and a huge entourage of other Bahamian officials on a shopping spree, telling the United Nations and the rest of the world just how bad things are in The Bahamas as a result of the Dorian devastation caused by climate change. You just can't make this up!

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Ton_Heijnmans 2 months, 2 weeks ago

What an upsetting and insulting stance to take? Ignorant also. This so-called message is really sickening. What does the minister mean when he insists all of this? Especially the part where he explains to us, the outsider world, how the most powerful hurricane to strike land, played out. Does this moron think we are both blind AND stupid? It appears, some savvy, blood-sucking marketeers, the strapped-for-cash-kind, or possibly the disaster capitalist kind, put this nonsensical notion into the head of this poor, obviously traumatized human being (with an enormous checkbook) and convinced him of this while kindly relieving him of enough funds to keep them going (probably online, because those are the smartest kinds of conmen) for another five years. Outsiders base their perception on nothing any of you can influence for all the tea in China. Not then, not now, not ever. Outlander will base their perception of you as a people based upon how you treat others, also those others who walk among you. Outsiders, Christians especially, will also be seriously in fear of the reality that, were a disaster to ever occur, while they were there, physically there one means .... as a tourist, ein AID arbeiter, or a contractor, or teacher, or medic or whatever.... , and an Mexico earthquake created a disaster wave to crash up and over your little islands .... that their lifeves would be immediately at risk..... if they survived the Hell and High-Water..... being surrounded by horrid, intensely enraged, foreigner-Hating, racist haters of anything and everything that isn't exactly like they are, walks like they do, talks like they do, breath like they do, see and hear.... like they do..... And that... if such an event did occur, the Arkans Jahn Canoes would have the decency to recover their dead bodies within the three days christianity prescribed for us many hundreds of years ago? Or at least try? That it's the horrid negativity that the world are watching and witnessing, utterly shocking as that is. I would not anticipate any of you would understand, what with your particular genus of specie, being the Masterrace and all that? Shocking and despicable. And thick.

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BahamaPundit 2 months, 2 weeks ago

Why didn't he do this from day one? He should have been changing the international news narrative from the Bahamas getting hit by a hurricane to "two remote islands." This should have been done from day one and was so obvious and preventable.

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ThisIsOurs 2 months, 2 weeks ago

"tourism is hot!". Maybe the minister will lose some of that arrogance with the realization that tourism is also fickle. Improve the product, prepare for the worst, pray for the best

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