Bahamas Hotels Industry Stabilising

THE Bahamian hotel industry maintained its "stabilisation" trend during April, Tribune Business has been told, with average occupancies for Nassau/New Providence hotels up by 2.6 percentage points and average daily room rates (ADRs) some 1.1 per cent ahead of 2009 comparatives.

Robert Sands, the Bahamas Hotel Association's (BHA) president, told Tribune Business that while the industry - the largest private sector employer in this nation - had "not lost any ground" compared to its 2009 performance, it was concerned about the potential business and environmental impact if oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico reached these shores.

Adding that the hotel industry would provide whatever support it could to the Government's efforts to counter the oil spill fall-out, if it came to that, Mr Sands said of the industry's current condition: "We're still stabilised and have not lost any ground compared to last year. That would be the best way to characterise our situation.

"Our preliminary information for April suggests that while occupancies were basically flat and stabilised, there was a slight increase in the amount of room nights sold, and the ADR generated was almost flat for the period."

Average occupancies for the month of April 2010 at the 14 Nassau/New Providence hotels surveyed stood at 68.6 per cent, compared to 66 per cent for 2009.

As for ADRs, they stood at $263 this year, compared to $260 in 2009. And there was also improving news when it came to air arrivals for 2010, Mr Sands telling Tribune Business: "Air arrivals to Nassau to the end of March 2010 were up 4.3 per cent."

However, the Bahamas and its tourism/hotel industries remain vulnerable to outside forces they cannot control, and not just the global economy. One of these is the potential disastrous consequences if oil from British Petroleum's (BP) leaking Deepwater Horizon oil rig arrives on these shores, creating an environmental nightmare.

Asked about the hotel industry's perspective on the situation, Mr Sands said: "The fact of the matter that we have to be concerned, because one of the primary reasons persons travel to the Bahamas is for a beach vacation.

"It appears the Government has been proactive in monitoring and addressing this particular situation, and we're going to give them all the support we can to address this situation as best we can."

While the situation with BP's leaking oil platform, currently spewing thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, was outside many people's control and dependent on whether sea currents carried it towards the Bahamas, Mr Sands said the BHA would continue to monitor the situation and hope the "liable parties" did what was necessary to secure the situation and prevent damage to this nation's "beaches, wetlands and sanctuaries".

The BHA president also told Tribune Business that there had been no discussions as an Association about the potential implications for tourism if oil exploration and drilling was conducted in the Bahamas, as several companies are seeking licences to do.

The Statoil/BPC Ltd consortium have already applied for licences to conduct oil exploration in the southern Bahamas, although the start of such work is likely to be some way off, given that the territorial boundaries with Cuba are still being worked out under United Nations (UN) auspices.

Dr Earl Deveaux, minister of state for the environment, said recently that no oil drilling would take place in Bahamian waters for a decade. However, Mr Sands said the fallout from the BP oil rig explosion and leak had brought the issue to the forefront, given the notion that tourism - especially the environmentally-based variety - was incompatible with the oil industry.

"This particular accident may have raised the profile of this situation, and requires some debate among us," Mr Sands said. "We've not given it any major consideration to date.

"We're going to have to weigh the economic, national interest with environmental issues. There's always a very fine line, but it's always fair to say environmental concerns are always uppermost in our business with regard to new developments. Environmental Impact Assessments are required for all situations, and this particular issue has highlighted that need to take some of these things a little bit further."

Meanwhile, Mr Sands said that while the British Airways (BA) strike might impact a UK traveller market to the Bahamas that was starting to grow again, the effects would likely be mitigated by alternative airlift options to Miami.

"We're always concerned when airlift, especially direct airlift to this destination, is reduced," the BHA president said. "For the Bahamas, there's tremendous airlift out of the UK to Miami on Virgin or other carriers, with the opportunity for connecting flights.

"We believe that during this period, some if not all of the slack will be taken up by other carriers, but that does not compensate for the shortfall in direct airlift out of that destination.

"Certainly, while British travel has I think decreased, it's beginning to grow again. The numbers are not significant to the overall airlift mix into New Providence."

Source: The Tribune