FAMILY island resorts are reporting mixed experiences over the first quarter of 2011, with some finding business has declined significantly as others see major boosts of as much as 55 per cent in occupancy.
President of the Out Island Promotion's Board, Stephen Kappeler, said based on a recent meeting of 10 of the board's 22 members, it appears that for many family island properties, business was "flat to last year for January and February, March was up quite a bit and April is pacing well too".
Neither he or the Bahamas Hotel Association could provide hard data about trends in the industry in the family islands at this time. Frank Comito, Executive Vice President of the Bahamas Hotel Association said the BHA is in the process of compiling figures.
Mr Kappeler, who is also General Manager of the Cape Eleuthera Resort and Yacht Club in Rock Sound, Eleuthera, said his property may have done better than most, having seen a 30 per cent increase in arrivals for March and a 15 per cent rise over 2010 in April.
"With this being a downturn economy we think that's outstanding. We think there's a lot of merit and strength in the two fly free and companion fly free promotion the Ministry of Tourism is doing with the Out Island Promotion's Board and the hotels in Nassau," he said.
Under the terms of the deal, a couple can get two free tickets to fly from Nassau to an out island resort if they agree to a minimum four-night stay in a participating resort once there.
Alexis Ross, General Manager at Valentine's Resort and Marina, in Harbour Island, Eleuthera, said she too has been extremely pleased with the performance of the 40-room resort this year over last.
"From what I can see we have done exceptionally well this year compared to last year. In the month of March (2010) we were at maybe 30 per cent occupancy last year, this year we are at 85 to 90 per cent. For us it's fantastic.
"From next week, straight to July, we will be running at about 80 per cent occupancy for both the villas and the marina. We've got quite a few groups coming," said Ms Ross.
However, at the Green Turtle Club in Abaco, sales manager Molly McIntosh said the first quarter "was down" for the 32-room Club and marina by around 15 per cent.
"We were not tremendously down, but revenue was down. We are having problems with flights and pricing on flights, that's probably the biggest challenge and since we had the issues with electricity last year (when the island suffered prolonged blackouts for months throughout the summer) we lost some boating groups that won't come back this year. They won't come back because they won't go through that.
"We're keeping our fingers crossed that BEC doesn't mess us up this year, we're hoping we can get more flights at great rate and more domestic tourism. We're hopeful that we'll have a very good summer if the gas and diesel costs (which affect boaters) don't kill us."
At the 16-room Greenwoods Beach Resort in Cat Island, Waldemar Illing said business is "definitely worse" this year than last. The poor first quarter came after a Christmas/New Year period where bookings were around 20 per cent off those registered last year, which were less than those seen in 2008.
He suggested the accessibility and cost of flights coming into the island is a major problem.
"We don't have any direct flights into Florida anymore. Cat Island Air stopped flying here, Bahamasair doesn't fly here. Sky Bahamas does fly in and out twice a day, thank God for that.
"It is difficult to make ends meet. Taxes are rising - instead of 10 per cent we have to add 16 per cent to the room rate, NIB contributions have risen and everyone is expecting discounts because that is what is happening all over the Caribbean."
Two weeks ago, data released by the Central Bank of the Bahamas revealed that tourism revenues for hotels in Nassau and Paradise Island were down 6.1 per cent in January and February of this year over last.
But despite this surprisingly poor performance in the early part of the year, director-general of tourism, David Johnson; Bahamas Hotel Association president, Stuart Bowe; and Baha Mar vice- president of external affairs and former BHA president, Robert Sands, said bookings have picked up and improved conditions are expected going forward. Mr Bowe said: "We fully anticipate making up for lost ground in January and February based on what we are seeing in March and April, and advanced bookings over the next two months."