Stopover tourism “recovered at 85%” this winter

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• And a “fully achievable” full return in 2022

• The optimism of the head of BHTA contradicts Moody’s

• But a higher CDC rating should be “as soon as possible”

By NEIL HARTNELL

Editor-in-chief of the Tribune

[email protected]

Bahamas stopover tourism activity will be “close to 85%” of pre-COVID levels by the 2021-2022 winter season, one major hotelier predicts, with a return to full activity levels ” very achievable “next year.

Robert Sands, president of the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA), told Tribune Business that the current pace and trends in bookings suggest that the country’s key industry will have recovered much of its pre-season volumes. pandemic by Christmas / New Year period and the first four months. of 2022 which represent the winter peak.

“I would say close to 85%,” he replied, when asked to estimate the recovery in land tourism from pre-COVID levels by this winter. “I think it’s a significant improvement, but the scarecrow remains COVID-19 and its management, as well as the impact of COVID on the traveling public and the protocols in place that can act as a deterrent to travel.”

Calling for the safety of hotel staff and guests to be balanced enough to ensure health measures do not drive business away from the Bahamas, Mr Sands said a return to 100% of pre-existing levels COVID for the stopover tourism segment was “very achievable” for 2022.

He added that this would be reflected in the further increase in hotel staff recalled from leave, adding that the number of returns to work will be “even better by winter and this year’s holiday season.”

“It’s a mixed bag,” added the president of BHTA. “For some hotels the staff may be 100%, some close to 100%, others 85%, but this is a step in the right direction. Obviously, these staffing levels could be even higher if some of the types of services that were previously offered but could not be offered – such as buffet restaurant meals – were to return or if companies at the group level returned even faster. .

Mr. Sands’ estimates contrast with those of Moody’s, the credit rating agency, which, by plunging the Bahamas further into non-investment grade or “trash” status with the downgrade of solvency by a notch. from Friday, predicted that the tourism sector will not fully recover until 2024 to earlier.

“Even with the relatively strong recovery in recent months, we expect it will take several years for tourist arrivals to return to pre-pandemic levels seen in 2019. We do not expect stopover arrivals – the main measures of tourist activity with regard to economic production. and benefits – to return to 2019 levels until at least 2024, while tourists arriving by cruise ship will be even slower to recover, ”Moody’s said.

“The main risk for the economic recovery is the evolution of the pandemic. The Bahamas, facing a new wave of coronavirus cases, has reintroduced health and safety protocols for arriving travelers, while tightening restrictions on social gatherings, including a nighttime curfew. In August 2021, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) placed the Bahamas among the highest-risk destinations for travelers, designating the country with the “Level 4: COVID-19” travel advice list. very high “.

“In our baseline scenario, the Bahamian tourism sector will remain resilient to the current Delta variant of the coronavirus. We expect pent-up travel demand to continue through the end of 2021, barring an increase in infections that prompts the government to respond to restrict access to the Bahamas for international tourists. “

Mr Sands echoed Moody’s somewhat contrasting assessment in one place – the need for the Bahamas to quickly evade the CDC’s “Level 4” designation as quickly as possible to ensure it does not. do not frighten potential visitors whose travel decisions are influenced by such ratings.

Highlighting the growing number of COVID-19 vaccinations in the Bahamas, the BHTA chief expressed optimism that this is having an impact on the number of cases in that country and “it bodes well for a reassessment towards the down from “level 4” to “level 3” as soon as possible.

“This is extremely important, and it is also a designation that we as a destination do not wish to have,” Sands added of the Bahamas’ Level 4 rating with the CDC. “It has an impact on everything, but certainly has an even bigger impact on the activity of the group because it is booked in advance.

“If you lose the ability to book during this period, you create a lull in terms of arrivals. This [group business] creates a foundation on which you can build and determine how to manage the price and performance of your business in the future.

“I would say the optimal point for group business is a minimum level of around 25-30% for hotels. Interest has increased. We have seen an increase in interest in group bookings. He returns slowly but surely.

Group travel is one of the last segments of tourism to rebound from the pandemic, not only because people fear to avoid large crowds and be crammed into one room, but because many U.S. businesses have reduced travel incentives in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. .

Mr Sands, meanwhile, said September bookings and business volumes were ahead of previous years. However, he suggested that comparisons to 2019 and 2020 were relatively meaningless due to the devastation of Hurricane Dorian the year before and then the presence of COVID-19 some 12 months later.

“I would say we have a much better trend,” he added, “but this time of year is traditionally very slow, so the volumes or percentages don’t translate into huge numbers of people. think there are pockets of success, and a few pockets of disappointment, but in core occupations this is definitely not where we would like them to be although they are definitely in the right direction.

The BHTA chief also said he was convinced that the vast majority of visitors to the Bahamas are fully vaccinated, with the figure at his Baha Mar property “over 80%”. He added: “I would venture to say that while it may not be as high everywhere else, I think there is a high level of vaccinated visitors coming to the Bahamas.”


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