• Hotels eye 90%-plus Christmas/New Year occupancies
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Atlantis continues to beat its revenue targets and is predicting a strong 2023 first half, a senior executive has revealed, with the wider resort industry bracing for 90 percent-plus occupancies over the Christmas and New Year period.
Vaughn Roberts, the Paradise Island mega resort’s senior vice-president of government affairs and special projects, told Tribune Business in a recent interview that high average daily room rates (ADR) and visitor spending per occupied room are driving higher than projected revenues even though occupancy figures are slightly down on pre-COVID numbers.
Confirming that the Nassau/Paradise Island resort industry’s rooms rates were up 25-30 percent year-over-year, due to a combination of tourist demand and loss of room inventory due to the closure of the Melia Nassau Beach and British Colonial resorts, plus Atlantis’ own Beach Towers, he said: “We’re kind of wrapping up our budget for next year and we will be very strong through the first quarter.
“The Christmas week and festive season are very strong. The rate, ADR, is higher year-over-year so we’re having very strong rates for the festive period. Currently, the market seems to be up 25-30 percent on rates. This year has just been across the market.... Baha Mar, the Four Seasons Ocean Club, it’s all up.
“We’re seeing that continue into the first quarter, just the room rate growth. There’s just strong demand for the destination, and I think we’ve see it play out with the property playing well. I think we’re looking for a very Christmas and New Year period, certainly compared to last year.”
Atlantis is forecasting that the post-COVID recovery momentum will carry through the 2023 first half, Mr Roberts said, adding: “The spend per occupied room is very strong and, while we may be down on occupancy, the occupancy numbers are getting back to pre-COVID levels.
“We are certainly making that up on the spend and room rate. We are beating revenue targets and it’s really driven by the strong spend per occupied room and ADR. We’re not quite there on the occupancy, but we’re happy because the additional rate has a better flow through. We’re very happy with how we’ve performed this year and how it looks for the first two quarter next year.”
Meanwhile, Mr Roberts said Atlantis and its ultimate owner, Brookfield Asset Management, continue to assess potential development plans for the former Club Med site on Paradise Island. “It’s very much in play in terms of our owners spending effort on analysing the opportunities and looking at various options,” he added.
“It’s really going to be driven by the analysis by Brookfield, but it’s very much in active play to figure out the right strategy, the right progression and the timing as well. There’s a strong market today, but obviously these things take time to plan and get into construction. You’re always timing your development to get in and be in front of growth when it occurs in the future.’
Robert Sands, the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association’s (BHTA) president, told Tribune Business yesterday that the sector’s bookings for 2023’s peak winter period between February and Easter are forecast to exceed pre-COVID numbers achieved in 2019 when a record 7.2m visitors (the majority cruise passengers) visited The Bahamas.
“I think it’s very strong, extremely strong this year,” he added of the Christmas and New Year period. “I would say it’s as strong or stronger than 2019. That’s the best way of putting it. We’re seeing very strong trends, both in New Providence and the Family Islands.
“Full for us is an acronym we us for anywhere in the mid-90 percent occupancies, so I’d say we’re in the very high 90 percents; over 90 percent occupancies. It will fall off after the first week in January, and by February it will pick up again and future bookings for the winter season are very strong. That will manifest itself in numbers higher than in 2019. This is also complemented by the rebound in group bookings.”
Mr Sands said the hotel and tourism industry’s forecast performance for the peak winter season and Christmas/New Year was “substantially exceeding my expectations coming off COVID”. He added that it could be “even better” if closed properties, such as the Melia Nassau Beach Resort and British Colonial, were open to add to the room inventory and meet ongoing pent-up demand.
Chester Cooper, deputy prime minister, recently admitted that The Bahamas has been losing market share to fast-growing Caribbean rivals, such as the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Jamaica, who have greatly expanded their hotel and room inventories so they can accommodate larger visitor numbers.
“We need more rooms. I want to ask the investment community to build more hotels, build more rooms, build more capacity,” he said. “We can fill these rooms but we need the inventory. We have to continue to improve what we offer as we have, essentially over the last decade or so, perhaps 15 years, lost our ranking in terms of share of the market.
“We continue to do extremely well. We continue to grow. But the Caribbean region is growing their room inventory and capacity faster than we are, and therefore their part of the overall pie. They are achieving better results on market share.”
Mr Cooper, though, argued that The Bahamas still had much to play for. “The Bahamas’ brand is very strong,” he said. “We continue to grow, we will beat 2019 in 2023, which perhaps will be the best year ever seen in tourism. We have the irons in the fire, we are carrying the message, and I look forward to completing this year in line with 2019 and 2023 ahead of 2019.”