By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Resorts on major Family Islands are targeting “a banner year” in 2023 after room revenues through to end-October beat the industry’s post-COVID target by ten percentage points.
Kerry Fountain, the Bahamas Out Island Promotions Board’s executive director, told Tribune Business that room revenues for its 37 member properties stood at 96 percent of 2019’s pre-pandemic numbers for the first ten months of 2022 compared to the 86 percent target set at the year’s start.
And, while collective room nights sold for the same period were slightly off-target, standing at 83 percent of pre-COVID numbers from 2019 as opposed to the 95 percent goal, he voiced optimism that the industry will narrow the gap over the 2022’s final two months aided by relatively weak comparisons due to the fall-out from Hurricane Dorian in the benchmark year.
Asserting that the data showed the value of resorts not cutting room rates, Mr Fountain told this newspaper: “When we started this calendar year our goal was to have 2022, in terms of room nights sold, be at 95 percent compared to 2019, and then room revenues, we set our goal at 86 percent compared to 2019.
“I knew we were going to struggle at the beginning of the year because of the Omicron variant. Omicron really raised its ugly head around Christmas last year. It really impacted our holiday business last year and in January. But we didn’t change our goals of 95 percent and 86 percent, for if we compared it to 2019, Dorian negatively impacted the northern Bahamas - Grand Bahama and Abaco - in late 2019 and we all suffered from some hangover as a result.
“We left our goals at 95 percent and 86 percent respectively. Right now, through the end of October, we’re at 83 percent in terms of room nights sold and at 96 percent in room revenues. We’re falling short in our room nights sold, but are surpassing our goals by 10 percentage points on room revenues,” he affirmed.
“We said at the beginning: ‘Do not cut your rates’. People are not travelling because the rates are too expensive. There’s tremendous demand for travel. People are saying after COVID: ‘Let’s go’. We definitely reached our room revenue goals through the end of October. And we feel November and December will now bring us closer to 95 percent in room nights sold. In 2019, Abaco was out of commission in November and December. We think we’re going to be very close to our goals.”
Mr Fountain added that the Promotion Board had taken a deeper dive into the statistics by studying like-for-like comparatives, meaning the performance of resort properties who were both members in 2019 and today. “The same member hotels, they’re at 79 percent in terms of room nights sold but right on goal in terms of 86 percent in room revenues,” he revealed.
“Again, in November and December, we have the opportunity to those room nights sold closer to the goal of 95 percent. We lift up the hood to say: ‘OK: Which islands are doing well and which ones are still not on target?’ What we found is we determined islands like Abaco, Andros, Exuma and Harbour Island, those islands are at least at our goal of 93 percent room nights sold compared to 2019.
“Then the room revenue, the strong performers are Abaco, Andros, Bimini and Harbour Island. By doing that, we’re able to see exactly which islands are under-performing. It’s the same story that I’ve been sharing with you for the past year. The islands that are under-performing are the islands that do not have the necessary airlift. It tells us exactly what we have to fix.”
Mr Fountain said Andros was performing well thanks to the introduction of new flights by Aztec and Makers Air from Fort Lauderdale’s Fixed Base Operations (FBO) facility. But he added: “Cat Island is still not where it should be compared to 2019. Long Island, they’ve had a good year thanks to the frequency of Bahamasair flights from Nassau and connections.
“San Salvador continues to struggle because of having to come to Nassau overnight and leave the next day, which adds to the cost of the vacation. But most of the major islands are looking forward to a banner year in 2023.” Describing the mood among Promotion Board member hotels as “very positive”, Mr Fountain acknowledged that “we still have islands out there that are not enjoying the success that others are”.
Pointing to Acklins as an example, he added that infrequent airlift service as well as a lack of connectivity meant bonefishing enthusiasts heading for the island often have to overnight in Nassau “so that’s hindering growth on islands like Acklins”.
However, airlines present at last week’s Bahamas Out Island Promotions Board annual general meeting (AGM) confirmed that airlift and available seats will match 2019 numbers in 2023. Noting that airlift remains critical to growing room nights sold, room revenues and visitor numbers, he added: “What we’re seeing is that there will be at least equal airlift in 2023 to what we had in 2019.
“The airlines that are not at what they delivered in 2019, it’s not because they don’t have an appetite to add the seats. There’s still lingering problems in the airline industry with a shortage of pilots and crew, and at reservation centres. Those airlines realise demand for The Bahamas is huge, and as they build capacity and add pilots and crews, and staff reservation centres, capacity will grow.”
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