Friday, July 23, 2021
• Exec urges collective effort on social media untruths
• Warns post-COVID recovery ‘distributed unevenly’
• But predicts Family Island resorts back to 2019 levels
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A senior tourism official yesterday questioned what the industry is doing collectively “to counter” COVID-19 disinformation on social media as he revealed the “uneven” Family Islands recovery.
Kerry Fountain, the Bahamas Out Islands Promotion Board’s executive director, told a Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) meeting that the industry - both individually and collectively - needed to do more to combat inaccuracies circulating via social media platforms so that more of their staff will be encouraged to vaccinate.
Arguing that this cannot be left to the likes of the BHTA alone, he added: “As an industry we really need to get together and counter what is being spread by social media. What are we doing as an industry to counteract what is being spread on social media?”
Mr Fountain spoke out as he revealed that the Family Island hotel industry’s post-COVID recovery is “not evenly distributed”. For the 2021 first half, Eleuthera/Harbour Island led the way with more than 4,850 room nights sold compared to over 5,710 for the same period in 2019, meaning the destination had regained 85 percent of its pre-pandemic business levels.
Next best, although some way off, was Abaco at 57 percent of 2019 room nights sold even though it had to contend with Hurricane Dorian as well. Andros placed third at 54 percent of 2019 room nights sold, followed by Exuma at 51 percent, Long Island at 51 percent and Bimini at 45 percent.
Recovery was further muted in the more remote southern Family Islands, and Mr Fountain added: “We still have work to do. The challenge we have with those islands is the same as pre-COVID- the lack of airlift out of south Florida and Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA).
The Bahamas Out Island Promotions Board had targeted for member properties to return to 65 percent of room nights sold in 2019, and 62 percent of room revenue for that year, during the 2021 first half. However, room nights sold for larger hotels with 51 rooms only returned to 50 percent of 2019 levels, which Mr Fountain blamed on the late February opening of Sandals Emerald Bay.
For hotels with less than 50 rooms in the northern, central and southern Bahamas, room nights sold for the 2021 first half reached 57 percent, 66 percent and 74 percent of 2019 levels respectively, and Mr Fountain said: “You can see we are well on our way to achieving what we said would be our goals, which was 65 percent of what we did in 2019.
“Overall, in terms of room nights sold, we are up to 62 percent of what we did in 2019, and in terms of room revenue, 59 percent of what we did in 2019. You can see we’re really not too far off.” On room revenue, larger hotels with 51 rooms or more collectively achieved 45 percent of 2019 levels, while those with less than 50 rooms in the northern, central and southern Bahamas gained room revenues equivalent to 65 percent, 69 percent and 61 percent of 2019’s performance.
For the 2021 third quarter, hotels with less than 50 rooms in the central and southern Bahamas are projected to generate more room nights sold than during the same period in 2019, coming in at 115 percent and 103 percent respectively. The northern Bahamas and larger hotels of 51-rooms plus are forecast to come in at 97 percent and 84 percent, respectively, of 2019 performance.
As for room revenues, small hotels in the northern and central Bahamas are predicted to beat 2019’s third quarter room revenues at 128 percent and 105 percent, respectively. Large hotels are pegged at 85 percent of 2019 third quarter room revenues, and small properties in the southern Bahamas at 77 percent.
Mr Fountain said the sector is on track for a full recovery by the 2021 third quarter even with the Canadian and European markets largely absent due to COVID-19 measures in those territories. Total room nights sold and room revenues across all the Board’s member properties for this period are pegged at 99 percent and 98 percent, respectively.
And, for the full nine-month period between January and end-September 2021, room nights sold and room revenues are pegged at 71 percent and 70 percent, respectively, of 2019 levels.
Moving forward, Mr Fountain called on all resorts to keep testing staff for COVID-19 every 14 days as mandated by the Ministry of Health. Yet he questioned why the Government had yet to look at changing the law, particularly the Health and Safety at Work Act, as a means to ease the cost burden on employers from having to pay for these tests.
Describing testing as “cheaper than other options”, Mr Fountain urged hotels to encourage employees to become vaccinated. He warned against discounting room rates, describing this as “a slippery slope to get back up the pole”, while also cautioning against “trying to cater to pre-COVID business levels with COVID staffing levels” due to the impact on customer service.
Mr Fountain called for member properties to maintain “a flexible cancellation policy” and also ensure their websites maintained COVID preparedness plans, particularly since Europeans and Canadians will be “walking on thin ice” when they return due to the pandemic’s threat.