By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A senior tourism executive yesterday said Family Island hotels are “pretty psyched” about the upcoming winter season as they remain on track to beat 2021 forecasts by near 20 percentage points.
Kerry Fountain, the Bahamas Out Islands Promotion Board’s executive director, told Tribune Business that is member properties are on target to generate between 80-85 percent of what they achieved in 2019 for room revenues and room nights sold.
“A lot of our hotels are approaching 2019 numbers,” he said. “Our goal at the beginning of the year was to reach 65 percent of room nights sold in 2019, and then 62 percent of room revenues reached in 2019. It looks like that in both cases we’ll surpass that goal.
“I can tell you that from the January to September 2021 forecast that you did, and the two forecasts we did for the January through December period, it looks like we’re going to be about 80-85 percent of what we did in 2019 for room nights sold and room revenue. It’s worth stressing that performance has been carried by stopover visitors coming basically from the US.”
Canada and Europe, which have traditionally accounted for between 6-7 percent of Out Island hotels’ business, have largely been cut-off from The Bahamas since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020.
Now, with US president Joe Biden set to open his borders to vaccinated travellers from both jurisdictions come November, they will once again be able to connect with flights to The Bahamas from Florida and other states.
Mr Fountain said the anticipated move would help his member hotels “get even closer to” pre-COVID numbers from 2019. He added that European visitors, especially, were “important because of their length of stay” and significant number of room nights sold per capita as opposed to “the number of heads in beds”.
“We’re pretty psyched,” the Out Islands Promotion Board’s chief told this newspaper. “I just hope hotel staff continue to get vaccinated and the hotels get prepared for the business we see coming down the street. We don’t want to rest on our laurels. We keep on pushing to get vaccinated and, when you do, to follow the protocols of mask wearing, social distancing and avoiding crowds.”
Mr Fountain said the Board was urging member hotels to reach out to guests before they arrive, via their website and social media, “to reassure them that all the necessary protocols to welcome them safely, and afford them a safe vacation once they get here”, have been taken via the provision of six-feet distance markers.
He added that customer service was another key focus, having seen how US and Canadian hotels, restaurants and other hospitality businesses had struggled throughout 2021 by using 2020 staffing levels to try and cope with the increased demand.
“We are contacting members before they open in late October and early November, and saying now is the time to invest in front-line customer service training for staff,” Mr Fountain said. “We’re partnering with the Ministry of Tourism on that, and hopefully will have the programme endorsed by the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association and University of The Bahamas.”
He added that the Out Islands Promotion Board was seeking to introduce benchmarks to measure the training’s effectiveness and ensure it became a long-term commitment with dedicated “follow up” from member properties.
“In terms of measuring hotels, when people choose a hotel they look at its Trip Advisor rating,” Mr Fountain said. “What we’re aiming for is all hotels to have a Trip Advisor service rating of 4.5. We cannot totally eliminate COVID-19, but we can mitigate it as much as possible and offer good service at 4.5 or above.
“If we do all things possible to mitigate COVID-19 we believe we have a winner. We have to make a commitment to offer good customer service. That’s an investment, and we have to commit to that and be dedicated to it.”