BHTA Chief: New Marketing Approaches Needed After Stagnant 2013

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The Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) has described 2013 as a "stagnant and transitional" year with "mixed financial results" and has pointed to the need for new approaches to marketing The Bahamas in 2014.

On the bright side, the BHTA President Stuart Bowe said 2013 saw many new investments in hotel properties continue, get underway, or be announced, and has argued The Bahamas is well poised to take advantage of "unprecedented opportunity" as it enters the new year.

He was addressing the annual general meeting of the BHTA on Friday.

His comments come as the most recently released official data shows that hotel properties experienced an eight percent decline in revenue in the nine months up to October of this year, mostly due to a fall in overall occupancy levels, with growth in arrivals to The Bahamas as a whole just 2.3 percent for the period as opposed to 8.3 percent in 2012.

The “high value-added” air arrivals component fell by 6.5 percent in the first nine months of the year, in comparison to 2012’s 9.4 percent gain, while expansion in sea passengers stood at 5.1 percent as opposed to eight percent in 2012.

The Central Bank’s Monthly Economic and Financial Development Report indicates that up to October, The Bahamas had received 4.5 million in visitors. It described tourism performance as “lackluster”, primarily due to “sustained weakness in key source markets”, and contributing to “subdued” domestic economic conditions overall.

Addressing the meeting, Bowe pointed to numerous challenges that need to be tackled if Bahamian tourism is to achieve its potential, while adding that the “transition” of The Bahamas as a destination is underway.

Ongoing construction or refurbishment can be seen at properties such as Baha Mar, the Blue Diamond resort on Grand Bahama, and Resorts World Bimini, noted Bowe, introducing thousands of new or restored hotel rooms to the market.

On Eleuthera, The Cove completed a major upgrade and expanded to 70 rooms. Grand Lucaya on Grand Bahama completed major refurbishments as did Sandals, Atlantis and Comfort Suites in Nassau.

Meanwhile, San Salvador will benefit from the construction of 360 new luxury condo-hotel units to be operated by Club Med and an additional 125-room boutique hotel next to that property.

However, 2013's visitor numbers left much to be desired.

Looking back at the year to date, Bowe said: “Destination-wide, hotel room occupancies and visitor arrivals will be down, average daily room rates will show a slight increase or be flat. Visitor spending, which dropped dramatically over the recession years, is slowly improving in most tourism sectors. The destination’s hotel room inventory continues to improve, with major refurbishments and developments in a number of hotels and restaurants. The improvements suggest that there will be growth in the near future.”

Bowe said that affordable and sufficient airlift will be critical to the ability for The Bahamas to attract the visitors who will ensure the success of many new projects underway or on stream, and added that the BHTA, the Ministry of Tourism and the Nassau Airport Development company are all working “aggressively” on this front.

“The Nassau/Paradise Island Promotion Board has created a detailed strategy to attract over 1,200 additional daily seats by the end of 2014 and with the ministry and NAD is actively working with major airlines to generate the new lift. New approaches to marketing the destination will be a top priority early in 2014.”

Meanwhile, he noted other threats to competitiveness and new oncoming challenges.

“In the midst of tremendous promise, there are the realities of our time. Government needs to address growing public debt. Higher taxes are a reality. High utility costs must be lowered. Productivity and service levels need to reach the highest global standards. Economic policies must support the growth of airlift, visitor spending and small business development.”

Bowe said the BHTA is committed to addressing many of these challenges, working on various fronts to do so.

“We continue to be vigilant on workforce development at all levels. While more efforts must be undertaken to attract business and address our industry’s cost challenges, we must do all that we can to manage customer service expectations.”

Alison Lowe
The Nassau Guardian
Published: December 9, 2013