By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Connections to Nassau/Paradise Island hotels through their promotion board’s website have leapt 98 percent for 2022 to-date, the latter’s chairman revealed yesterday, predicting that business will further “ramp up” into early 2023.
Fred Lounsberry, the Nassau/Paradise Island Promotion Board’s (NPIPB) chief, told the hotel industry’s regular quarterly meeting that so-called “conversions” - connecting travellers to member hotels’ websites via its own - were “up substantially from last year” as the sector maintains its post-COVID recovery despite inflation and other global economic woes.
He added that increasing “conversions”, which remain 40 percent down year-over-year for the same period compared to pre-COVID 2019, “continues to be a focus” for the Promotion Board amid indications that Nassau/Paradise Island will enjoy “a strong summer”.
“We’re very optimistic heading into the fourth quarter,” Mr Lounsberry added. “All indications are that we will continue to keep this trend going. Summer seems very strong, and we’re on the ramp up for the fourth quarter and early 2023.”
The Nassau/Paradise Island Promotion Board chair added that, over the past 12 weeks, Nassau hotel demand among Florida residents had increased by 27 percent while New York - its other major source market - was ahead by 1 percent. And Los Angeles, “a big target for expansion”, is for 2022 to-date the fourth largest tourism source market in the US having produced some 110,342 visitors - a level that could encourage airlines to introduce direct service to The Bahamas.
As for visits to the Promotion Board’s website, these were close to tripling compared to 2021 levels, having risen by 185 percent year-over-year. This increase, though, was achieved against a backdrop of weak 2021 comparatives when The Bahamas was still afflicted by COVID restrictions impacting travel.
Mr Lounsberry said that while The Bahamas had not lost any non-stop flights or direct service from key US tourism markets, the frequency on some routes had “peeled off” due to a combination of reduced hotel room inventory - the closures of the British Colonial and Melia Nassau Beach resorts - and the aviation industry’s well-publicised pilot and other staff shortages.
“The bottom line for us is driving demand, and as long as we’re getting 80 percent load factors flights will be added,” he said. Mr Lounsberry added that air fares are “high across the board”, and Nassau was “very competitive” with ticket prices lower than some rivals. “We’re in the same game as everyone else as far as airlift and fuel costs. Hopefully those come down a bit,” he said.
Carmel Churchill, the Grand Bahama Tourism Board’s director of marketing, told the same Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) meeting that the island’s hotel occupancies were flat year-over-year at 36 percent with some 1,499 rooms available. This compared to 56 percent for 2019, the last year before the COVID pandemic struck.
Still, with the increase in cruise traffic, Ms Churchill said May’s total visitor arrivals had jumped by 44.6 percent year-over-year, while those for 2022 to-date had more than doubled to rise by 150 percent. “It’s been a number of years since we’ve been able to feel really good about our island,” she added.
Bahamasair’s recently launched non-stop Orlando service has been upgraded to a jet for more seating capacity and, while it was originally designed as a seasonal service due to end on September 10, it will resume on November 17 and continue through January. Ms Churchill said she is now pursuing the national flag carrier for the proposed flight schedule so that the service can be properly marketed.
“We are constantly challenged by the cost of airlift in Grand Bahama,” she added, noting that it was cheaper to fly to Nassau and then connect to Freeport rather than come direct. “The cost of airlift is definitely something we need help with,” she said. “The lack of high-end product in Grand Bahama is also a challenge.
“We were struggling with congestion in the [airport] terminal because of the size of it. I must give kudos to the team at the airport as they are doing a tremendous job facilitating the smooth progression of customers through the terminal and Immigration.
“The cost of doing business throughout Grand Bahama and the rest of The Bahamas as it pertains to the cost of electricity and the cost of labour, they are challenges we continue to work on every day to deliver a first-class product to our customers.”
The Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD) has added two Bahamian companies to its concessions. Besides fashion brand Bahari, with its Archipelagoes range, and Manuelo’s Lettuce Eat Fresh by Chef Manny Gibson.