The Bahamas Hotel Association's (BHA) president is "confident" this nation will be approaching the two million stopover visitor mark before 2022, believing a study on the industry's economic impact has underestimated the $2.6 billion Baha Mar project's post-2014 impact.Responding to Tribune Business's questions on the findings of the World Travel and Tourism Council's (WTTC) study on the immediate and medium-term growth prospects for the Bahamian hotel sector, Stuart Miller said he was "surprised not to see a spike in growth" related to what some have described as a 20-30 per cent increase in New Providence's hotel room inventory once the Baha Mar project opens.
The WTTC study had projected that stopover visitor numbers to the Bahamas would increase by almost 500,000 over the next decade, hitting 1.883 million by 2022. It also predicted that the Bahamian tourism industry's direct GDP contribution would increase by 3.1 per cent to $1.451 billion in 2012, and grow at a 2.6 per cent per annum rate over the next decade to 2022.
Referring to the 1.883 million stopover projection, Mr Miller told Tribune Business: "It is our hope that we will reach that milestone before 2022.
"With the opening of Baha Mar, continued commitments to customer service, a focus on delivering exceptional customer experiences, reaching our potential in the Family Islands and the strength of our public-private partnership, I'm confident that we will approach two million annual stopover visitors before 2022."
The $2.6 billion Baha Mar redevelopment at Cable Beach is projected to add some 2,200 rooms to New Providence's hotel inventory when it begins full operations in 2014. These rooms will be split between the 1,000 room casino hotel, 700 room convention hotel, 300 room lifestyle hotel and 200 room luxury hotel, with brand operators including the Hyatt, Rosewood and Morgans.
Focusing on the WTTC study's growth projections, which were revealed in Friday's Tribune Business, Mr Miller added: "The WTTC projections for 2012 growth mirror the cautious optimism shared with us by the nation's hoteliers in our recent tourism performance and outlook study.
"While the report shows steady growth over the next decade, we are surprised not to see a spike in growth tied to the opening of the Baha Mar project. We are encouraged by the near-term projections."
When it came to the Bahamian tourism industry's total GDP contribution, a measurement that also takes into account the spin-off and indirect impacts from this nation's number one sector, the WTTC report said this hit $3.514 billion in 2011 for a 46.2 per cent share.
The industry's total GDP contribution was forecast to grow by 2.9 per cent in 2012 to hit $3.616 billion or 46.3 per cent. Longer-term, this indicator is projected to grow by 2.6 per cent per annum over the next decade to hit $4.683 billion, or 47.3 per cent of GDP, by 2022.
As for employment, the WTTC report said tourism directly generated 43,500 Bahamian jobs, a figure equivalent to 25.8 per cent of the total workforce, in 2011. This figure is projected to grow by 2.4 per cent in 2012 to hit 44,500 or 25.9 per cent of total employment.
"By 2022, travel and tourism will account for 52,000 jobs directly, an increase of 1.7 per cent per annum over the next 10 years," the WTTC added. "This includes employment by hotels, travel agents, airlines and other passenger transportation services (excluding commuter services). It also includes the activities of the restaurant and leisure industries directly supported by tourists."
The wider employment benefits from tourism in the Bahamas are also set to expand. The WTTC report added: "The total contribution of travel and tourism to employment (including wider effects from investment, the supply chain and induced income impacts) was 90,500 jobs in 2011, or 53.8 per cent of total employment.
"This is forecast to rise by 2.5 per cent in 2012 to 92,500 jobs or 54 per cent of total employment. By 2022, travel and tourism is forecast to support 111,000 jobs or 55.1 per cent of total employment, an increase of 1.8 per cent per annum over the period."
Summing up what this all meant for the Bahamas, its economy and tourism industry, Mr Miller told Tribune Business: "The WTTC's report underscores the message which the BHA and the Ministry of Tourism repeatedly convey publicly.... that tourism is everybody's business.
'The livelihood of almost every resident and business in our nation is tied to tourism. Hence the need to connect training and customer service initiatives at a national level."
Pointing out that the Bahamian resort industry already had "significant investment" in its human capital and physical infrastructure, and continued to spend, the BHA president added: "Improved customer service is the crucial ingredient for long-term success.
"That entails reviewing the tourism customer service continuum and establishing leaders (private or public) to drive each component to world-class levels."
Calling for government support to continue, and service delivery models to be "constantly reviewed" to maintain the Bahamas' competitiveness, Mr Miller said that apart from education it was also vital to invest in telecommunications throughout this nation, along with airports, seaports and roads.
"There is tremendous opportunity to further diversify our tourism product. We need to continuously reinvent ourselves, which has happened on Paradise Island and is now taking shape on Cable Beach as well as some Family Islands," the BHA president told Tribune Business.
"There is an entrepreneurial spirit being unleashed in our Family Islands, where hundreds of Bahamians have invested in small hotels and tourism-related businesses.
"Sports tourism, medical tourism, cultural and heritage tourism, eco-tourism and religious tourism.... are offered at varying degrees right now, and we are in the infancy stages of their development. Each sector is essential to the future, which is tied to our ability to reach more markets due to the diversification of our offerings."
April 16, 2012