Between 3,500-4,000 stopover visitors ended their Bahamian vacations early due to Hurricane Irene, the minister of tourism and aviation has revealed, potentially costing this nation up to $4.4 million in lost tourism revenues.
The Category Three hurricane also disrupted the relatively high occupancy levels that were being enjoyed by many Nassau/Paradise Island-based resorts, Tribune Business understands, with rates running at between 65-85 per cent for most properties.
Still, despite the short-term disruption, Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, minister of tourism and aviation, told this newspaper that the Bahamas' most important industry had fared "far better than anybody could possibly have hoped" during Hurricane Irene.
He confirmed, though, that "somewhere between" 3,500-4,000 tourists across the Bahamas cut short their planned vacation stay and exited this nation early due to Irene's approach.
Based on an average per capita spend of $1,100 for stopover visitors, in the short-term this could have potentially cost the tourism industry between $3.85-$4.4 million in lost revenues.
And one well-placed tourism industry source, who requested anonymity, told Tribune Business: "Unfortunately, for a number of the hotels on Nassau/Paradise Island, they were running at a high occupancy level, so we know there will be some impact."
They estimated that over the Thursday-Sunday period, Nassau/Paradise Island resorts were "looking at anywhere from probably 65-85 per cent occupancy".
"But with the Bahamas Hotel Association's hurricane cancellation policy, many of those people who would otherwise have cancelled are being rebooked, so the hotels are trying to recoup some of that business," the source said.
"A lot of the Family Island hotels were closed from mid-August, but there will be some interruption at some of the larger Family Island properties."
While it could be argued that Irene came at the 'right time' as far as the tourism industry is concerned, given that this is a relatively slow period for it, the source said it would have been "better in September" - traditionally the slowest month.
Mr Vanderpool-Wallace said the total number of visitors who had stayed to 'ride out' Irene was unknown, and explained that the storm's 'net effect' was as yet unknown due to the disruption it was causing to US east coast air travel.
Noting that Jet Blue had cancelled some 882 flights going to, and leaving, US east coast airports over the weekend, Mr Vanderpool-Wallace said: "That's precisely the point. We can't begin to make assessments of cancellations, because some people have had to stay longer than planned. We don't have that yet, and are not even going to begin to compile that yet.
"We had in the order of some 6,000 persons staying at Atlantis during the storm, and some of those persons will not be able to get back because of the path of Hurricane Irene. We have a combination of people unable to get in, and we have people staying longer than planned, and the net effect of that? We don't have that yet."
When it came to major Family Island properties, such as Club Med in San Salvador and Sandals Emerald Bay on Exuma, the minister of tourism and aviation said both had sustained "minor damages to the property, although most of it is cosmetic".
Expecting Club Med to be back to normal by Sunday, Mr Vanderpool-Wallace said that as high-end properties, both were reluctant to bring in high spending visitors if the property and guest experience were not up to scratch.
As a result, he said: "We expect Sandals to be closed for a number of days while they get the work completed."
Mr Vanderpool-Wallace, though, said the re-opening of Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) at 7am on Friday morning was "far sooner than we thought it would be open".
Any re-opening following a storm had to take place after inspections of the runways and aprons, plus all other essential facilities, including electricity. Mr Vanderpool-Wallace said that usually "a few glitches surface, but found none and everything got going".
Adding that the Ministry of Tourism and its partners were already "passing the message out publicly" via websites and other means that the Bahamas was still open for tourism business, Mr Vanderpool-Wallace said: "The construction code in the Bahamas is something we ought to be proud of. That's part of the reason why we have not had a more significant impact on the tourism sector."
Source: The Tribune