By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Family Island resorts have recovered to 80 percent of pre-COVID business volumes, a senior tourism official has revealed, but the rebound remains uneven because of airlift woes impacting some locations.
Kerry Fountain, the Bahamas Out Island Promotions Board’s executive director, told Tribune Business that while destinations such as Andros have bounced back to 93 percent of pre-pandemic room revenues and nights sold, its members on islands such as San Salvador remain at just 25-29 percent of typical levels.
“Based on our meeting today, we’re about maybe - and this is generally speaking, all islands on average - we’re maybe around 80 percent in terms of room nights sold and room revenues,” he disclosed. “We’re about 80 percent compared to where we were in 2019 for the same period this year.
“Don’t forget that from the beginning of 2019 to September 1 2019 was a record year for us. We’re actually about 80 percent of room nights sold and revenues compared to 2019. We’re definitely seeing a full recovery. We’re out of the tunnel. We just need to continue working on places like Crooked Island, Long Island, Acklins and San Salvador, improving the airlift going to those islands.”
Mr Fountain continued: “What we’re seeing is islands like Andros are about 93 percent of room nights sold and room revenues compared to 2019. It’s almost fully recovered. But San Salvador compared to 2019, we’re only about 25-29 percent recovered. It’s a matter of airlift.
“People say there are four flights going into San Salvador, but the problem is the timing of the flights. Does it allow same day connection for someone arriving in Nassau going to San Salvador? Does it allow connection for someone going from San Salvador to Nassau? If that doesn’t happen it adds more cost to the vacation; it means the person has to stay extra nights to get to San Salvador, and spend an extra night in Nassau.
“It’s a tough one, but at least we know where the itch is. We know what needs to be scratched.” Meanwhile, Robert Sands, the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association’s (BHTA) president, told Tribune Business yesterday that the industry is “concerned and watching closely” to ensure that US flight cancellations and delays do not impact tourist access to this nation.
Some 1,000 flights across the US were said to have been cancelled yesterday, adding to about 14,000 flights that were either cancelled or delayed on Friday and Saturday. Besides potentially impacting direct airlift to The Bahamas, this can also cause tourists both coming to and returning to this nation to miss vital connecting flights.
Jan Knowles, Nassau Airport Development Company’s (NAD) vice-president of marketing and communications, told this newspaper via e-mail reply yesterday: “We had a few cancellations over the weekend, but this is not abnormal and was not significantly more than we would typically see on a normal weekend. We continue to monitor events closely particularly given the steady recovery of our business over the past several months.”
And Mr Sands added: “I have not been made aware of how that impacted New Providence, and how many flights to New Providence were cancelled. Any cancellations in the US will directly impact business here in The Bahamas. It has not manifested itself in a plethora of cancellations going into New Providence this weekend but it’s something we’re going to have to continue to monitor.
“It’s something that we’re concerned about and continue to monitor so that spillover does not impact airlift into the destination. These are conditions that are ongoing. We’re going to watch it. It has not been that impactful this weekend.”
This comes as The Bahamas eliminated COVID entry testing for vaccinated visitors and the Health Travel Visa with effect from yesterday, a development that the Bahamian hotel and tourism industry has described as akin to “Christmas coming early”.
The Bahamas was always likely to follow the US lead as soon as this nation’s major source market altered its COVID entry requirements. The regime unveiled matches the US version almost exactly, with only unvaccinated visitors now having to produce a negative COVID PCR test taken within 72 hours of travelling to this nation. The requirement for vaccinated visitors to produce a rapid antigen test within the same time period now falls away.
The Bahamian tourism industry has been agitating heavily for the relaxations unveiled yesterday, especially given that they eliminate the bureaucracy/red tape associated with post-COVID travel as well as significantly lowering the cost for vaccinated visitors. Major US source markets have seen a reduction in COVID testing availability and an end to free tests, while insurance is often not covering these costs.
The reforms mean that the $40 Health Travel Visa fee is now eliminated, potentially saving a family of four $160. And, when added to testing costs now exceeding $100 in many locations, the savings for such a family could amount to several hundred dollars on the cost of a vacation - possibly even as high as $700.