In preparation for Gulfstream International’s ambitious $85 million expansion, executives from the company have embarked on a Family Island tour to assess the market and decide how the airline will position itself on the world stage.
The tour, involving dozens of players in the local tourism industry, plans to bring key stakeholders together and pave the way for greater tourism numbers for the islands.
“I’m going to take them for a tour of the resorts, and he’s meeting with them to develop international marketing strategies to increase guest counts,” said Stephen Kappeler, the manager at Cape Eleuthera and Vice President of the Bahamas Hotel Association.
“Hotel owners are not travel agents. They [resort owners] need to know what they are doing to drive traffic.”
Jim Swieter, the Senior Vice President of International Development, is expected to touch down in Eleuthera today.
This visit to The Bahamas follows an announcement last month that Gulfstream International, after undergoing a restructuring following its bankruptcy in 2010, is undergoing a $85 million expansion whereby it is doubling the existing fleet by purchasing new Saab 340, 30-seater aircrafts.
These planes will replace its 19-seater planes, and they are due for arrival in November.
At the time, Wynsome Ferguson, the manager of the Bahamas Tourism Office in Abaco, said the move will go a long way to improving air traffic.
“That’s going to be huge for Abaco,” he said earlier.
“Airlift has been a challenge for us for a while, so increasing it, that is going to be very good.”
As a tourist leader in Eleutheria, Kappeler echoes these sentiments. But the number of flights coming into the islands is one thing, he said. Filling those seats, and providing the right marketing to attract tourists, is an entirely different matter.
“With the expansion, they need to increase their guest counts as well,” he said.
“The purpose is to move the supply after refleeting. Added supply is also going to drop the price. I think it’s going to make it more affordable to go the Out Islands.”
To accomplish this goal, Swieter plans to discuss a series of strategies and incentives to pass on to prospective tourists.
Chief among them is a plan to sell rooms with an air ticket through a “Hotel Pack” program. Tourism leaders want to offer a value priced ticket and an affordable experience for a wide variety of consumers.
Additional strategies including how to entice Bahamians to travel to the islands, and winning more international traffic from Miami, are also high on the agenda.
However, for David Johnson, the Director General of the Ministry of Tourism, the most important element to consider is visibility and convenience.
At the moment, he said travel to these islands are not promoted or accessible enough to the average consumer.
Part of the solution, he added, is better exposure on the Internet.
“You need to be able to find the product online,” he said.
“That’s a big hurdle to their success. They haven’t fast forwarded their means of doing business. But they’re receptive to these things and putting them forward. In the next six-to-eight months you will see changes in how they do business.”
In fact, Johnson went so far as to say a meager 3 percent of the tourism potential in The Bahamas is currently being utilized.
The other 97 percent is on the Out Islands.
“We’re working very hard to make some major steps forward to bring these islands to life, not only in terms of air service, but intra-air service between the islands,” he said.
“This tour a great step in that direction. Gulfstream is quite bullish on the islands and we’re pleased with that.”
Johnson confirmed that many promotional schemes are coming from the airline, but it was too pre- mature to speculate on exactly what they might be.
Either way, Kapeller is eager to meet with Swieter today, because it marks the beginning of a beautiful friendship to revitalize industry in the Out Islands.
“With the economy, and even though we had this bad storm, there are some favorable things that will happen in the Out Islands,” he said.
The Nassau Guardian