By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas’ suffered “the steepest” COVID-19 tourism decline of all Caribbean nations with its number one industry virtually wiped out in three weeks, new research suggests.
Data from STR, formerly known as Smith’s Travel Research and a widely-used tourism information tool, reveals that Bahamian average hotel occupancies went from suffering a 19.4 percent year-over-year decline in March’s second week to a catastrophic 90.8 percent plunge compared to prior year levels as the mix of border closures, travel warnings and airline cancellations truly bit.
And The Bahamas also suffered the “largest drop” in average daily room rates (ADRs) among Caribbean destinations across those three weeks, together with the sharpest plunge in another key hotel performance indicator - revenue per available room (REVPar).
The REVPAR decline, which started at almost 40 percent in the week March 8-10, then accelerated to 78 percent the following week and then to a 95.2 percent plunge to a disastrous $12.99 in the week March 24-30. Average daily room rates for the latter week were also down 47.8 percent against prior year comparatives.
The data shows precisely why properties such as Atlantis, Baha Mar, Sandals, the British Colonial Hilton and the RIU had no choice but to close their doors and temporarily lay-off thousands of staff once the final guests had left. With zero revenues coming in, they had little choice but to drastically cut costs including their wage bill.
The STR figures show that The Bahamas’ descent was quicker, and greater, than the rest of the Caribbean and the region’s average hotel indicators and metrics for the period. A month that typically represents the winter peak for local hotels, with occupancies often in the 90 percent range, was swiftly transformed into a rocky roller-coaster race to the bottom.
Taking the March 8-14 period, and comparing it with the same week in the prior period, STR found: “Among data-sufficient islands within the Caribbean region, The Bahamas saw the steepest year-over-year decline in demand (-19.5 percent).
“That led to the second-largest decline in occupancy (-19.4 percent to 70.4 percent), which coupled with the largest drop in ADR (-25.4 percent to $261.19), caused the steepest decline in RevPAR (-39.8 percent to US$183.75).”
The slide gathered pace the following week, 15-21 March, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread, cruise ships stopped sailing and the US started implementing travel bans on the likes of China and European nations to halt the outbreak.
“The Bahamas saw the steepest year-over-year decline in demand (-72.7 percent). That led to the largest decline in occupancy (-72.7 percent to 22.1 percent), which coupled with the largest drop in ADR (-19.5 percent to $292.58), caused the steepest decline in RevPAR (-78 percent to $64.67),” STR found.
The rout was completed the following week as hotel closures and lay-offs began. “The Bahamas saw the steepest year-over-year decline in RevPAR (-95.2 percent to $12.99),” STR revealed. “That was due to the region’s lowest absolute occupancy (-90.8 percent to 7.3 percent) and the largest drop in ADR (-47.8 percent to $177.39).”
The Bahamas’ occupancies and other indicators plummeted much faster than the rest of the region. Puerto Rico’s occupancy declines came closest to matching The Bahamas in the last two weeks of March 2020, while Barbados maintained occupancies above 50 percent for the first two weeks assessed by STR.
Neither Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, nor Carlton Russell, the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association’s (BHTA) president, could be reached for comment yesterday on the STR report.
Robert Sands, Baha Mar’s senior vice-president of government and external affairs, declined to comment because he had not seen the STR data. With Bahamian hotel industry and Ministry of Tourism data not yet released, he added: “The general results for the month’s aggregates aren’t out. It’s going to be pretty early to determine that particular position.”