While tourist arrivals are on the way to another record high, tourism sector stakeholders are still concerned that the important stopover growth is being hindered by a lack of hotel room inventory, President of the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association Robert “Sandy” Sands said Friday.
While the country’s overall tourism numbers this year have been ahead of the record year of 2019 since September, stopover visitor numbers are still trailing 2019.
Sands explained that a 25 percent reduction in room capacity is restricting growth in stopover visitors. He said while the country might not hit a record this year in terms of stopovers, it will surpass 2019 levels in 2024.
“The one impediment to us achieving this result is that we’re working with 25 percent less inventory, which one cannot ignore,” said Sands.
“The hotels that are currently operating have achieved significant increases in their occupancy levels, as well as in the average rates. We would have seen occupancy levels increased by anywhere from ten to 15 percent for the period to date.
“But you can’t get above a particular threshold if you do not have the number of inventory rooms available.
“A segment that is doing very well, and we will continue to encourage them, is the Airbnb segment, which obviously the government is looking at to see how they can be registered and have a better handle on their impact on the economy.
“But certainly, between that sector and the stopover sector, to have achieved 1.3 million, which is almost maybe 10,000 off the the number for 2019, I think it’s commendable with reduced inventory.”
Sands said it is cruise visitors that are pushing the overall numbers towards record highs, and not stopover visitors.
However, stopover visitors are the segment of tourism that is called high value, because stopover visitors spend much more that cruise visitors while in the country.
Sands said the high number of cruise visitors represents an opportunity to showcase The Bahamas and turn those cruise passengers into stopover visitors in the future.
“The 7.2 million visitors up to September was comprised of close to 5.8 million cruise visitors to the destination, some 81.5 percent of the total arrivals,” said Sands.
“This number is very good for us, and I think it also creates significant opportunities for the destination.
“When we looked at stopover visitors to date, which is lagging slightly behind 2019 numbers at 1,300,000, and representing 18.5 percent, that also creates opportunities for us.
“So let me first deal with the opportunities that accrue as a direct result of the cruise passengers. It would be very good if we can work on increasing the conversion of a percentage of these cruise passengers to stopover visitors, giving us a much better mix of cruise and stopover visitors, which should really be in the area of 30 to 70 percent.
“It will also give us the opportunity to increase spend, when we look at the spend of a cruise passenger versus the spend of a stopover visitor. For example, this year a cruise passenger spent approximately $85, but a stopover visitor spent close to $2,700.
“So, the conversion of five to ten percent of those individuals… would have an incremental and positive impact on revenues for the country.
“The second thing that this creates an opportunity for us is that with this large amount of individuals coming to our shores, we have to work to ensure that visitor dissatisfaction is decreased and visitor satisfaction is increased.
“This is extremely important, because the more persons that visit the islands of The Bahamas and with the advent of social media, negative guest satisfaction travels much quicker than positive guest satisfaction. So, we have to work very diligently to ensure that satisfaction levels are increased.”
Sands added that there has to be continued workforce development and training in the hospitality sector, in order to continue to improve on the country’s profile as a destination, as well as continue to improve airlift to the country.
In terms of airlift, he explained that the opening up of the West Coast of the US to The Bahamas through airlines JetBlue and Alaska Airlines is an important improvement for the country.
“These flights will open up a whole new market for this country, and also create a gateway for multiple segments of persons to visit the islands of The Bahamas,” he said.
By The Nassau Guardian