• President of BHTA: “We are not looking back”
• Christmas / New Year to start earlier, last longer
• Harbor Island described as “shock-a-block”
By NEIL HARTNELL
Editor-in-chief of the Tribune
Major Bahamian resorts are expected to enjoy “over 90%” occupancy over the Thanksgiving holiday, a leading hotelier revealed yesterday, adding: “We’re not looking back.”
Robert Sands, president of the Hotels and Tourism Association of the Bahamas (BHTA), told Tribune Business that, based on advance bookings, the Christmas / New Years holiday season is expected to start “earlier. than normal ”and last longer – providing increased earnings opportunities for COVID victims. properties and their employees.
While the Christmas / New Years period traditionally provides a weeklong boost to the Bahamian resort industry, he added that it could expand to ten days in 2021 with high volumes of cases scheduled to arrive in the Bahamas from December 20.
Given these trends, Mr Sands said the hospitality and tourism industry was poised for “levels of activity that we had not seen in many years, even before COVID”, with an airlift to the destination likely to be back and pre-pandemic capacity by January 2022 and early New Years bookings putting the Bahamas in a position to “definitely exceed 2019 levels”.
“All indications from industry partners are, yes, it will be a very strong Thanksgiving,” the BHTA chief said. “I would definitely say it’s similar to the levels seen in 2019 and maybe stronger than in 2019; much stronger than in 2019.
“I can tell you that it is [occupancies] extremely high, over 90 percent overall, for Thanksgiving weekend; the period. It’s very robust. ”Mr. Sands said the two Battle 4 Atlantis basketball tournaments, men’s and women’s, as well as events hosted by Baha Mar have helped kick off the peak winter tourist season.
He added that the post-COVID “pent-up demand”, as well as the Bahamas’ upgrade from “level 4” “do not travel” status with U.S. health officials to a “level 3”, further boosted demand for visitors.
“We are starting to see a resumption of early bookings, all early bookings for the period,” Sands said. “It promises to be very favorable and very encouraging. I would say this is a very noticeable increase in terms of booking levels.
“I would say these are some of the highest levels we haven’t seen in many years. I would say it’s even compared to pre-COVID. The trends are there too, and the holiday season is very strong. This year, the busiest period starts earlier than normal. It’s not limited to a few days. It can be a ten day period of very robust occupations.
“Christmas on New Years is usually six to seven days, but it could be ten days. We are starting to see a busy time even before Christmas. Airlift capacity to the Bahamas would have been sufficient, with the arrival of Virgin Atlantic and the expansion of British Airways to six days a week, increasing European arrivals, while other carriers added routes from the States -United.
“There appears to be an adequate airlift,” Sands added. “We’re not quite back to 2019 levels, but we are seeing an increase in the number of seats entering the destination month after month, and by the time we get to January the momentum will certainly have returned to the levels of. 2019 in terms of the airlift.
“The Bahamas have always been considered a safe destination. I think we’ve shown the world that our security protocols are strong, even though we’ve had a few [COVID] waves and an increase in cases, but we have taken steps that have inspired the confidence of the traveling public. “
With the current pace of hotel bookings expected to exceed 2019, a record year for Bahamian tourism with 7.2 million arrivals, Mr Sands said the possibility of further disruption related to COVID was far from his mind. .
“I don’t even think negatively at this point,” he added. “We continue to emphasize to members of the industry the need to be safe, to have all protocols in place and to ensure that all Department of Health issues are resolved. We are not looking back; we must continue to look to the future.
Meanwhile, Harbor Island was dubbed “crazy, crazy” and “shocking” yesterday as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches. Benjamin Simmons, owner of The Other Side and Ocean View properties, told Tribune Business that both resorts are 100% occupied and “it’s the same all around.”
“It was crazy. It’s been crazy since mid-October, ”he revealed. “The recovery was very important. It appears that large jets are landing every minute in northern Eleuthera. It’s a private jet after another private jet. We have the impression of being back.
“We were consistently between the 80s and the mid-90s when it came to occupancy. It’s at least in the 80s. We continue at this level until Christmas, then there is a little hollow before things start again. “
Mr Simmons said the Christmas and New Years season has been full for almost 12 months, and added, “We are very grateful that there seems to be some stability coming back to the market to some extent.
“I keep talking about weddings; it is our core business and there is an ongoing backlog. It’s not just us. Both Coral Sands and Pink Sands celebrated their weddings over the past two weekends. The backlog of weddings that people have rescheduled and are booking is huge. “
Mr Simmons said his hotels and others are struggling to find enough part-time staff, whom they rely heavily on for weddings, to keep up with demand. Many, he added, appeared to have found other jobs, a sign that the wider economy continues to recover from the pandemic.
“It comes back. It’s coming back, ”he said. “We just hope that whatever winter brings in terms of COVID-19, it doesn’t create any obstacle where we have to take one step forward, two steps back but, knock on wood, it feels like it there is some stability behind. Crossed fingers.”