The Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association’s (BHTA’s) recent virtual Board of Directors and Members meeting brought approximately 100 key tourism stakeholders from the private and public sector together to report on the state of the tourism industry, airlift and occupancy forecasts for The Bahamas. Senior executives from both the public and private sector including President of the BHTA, Robert “Sandy” Sands; Director General of The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, Joy Jibrilu; President of Baha Mar, Graeme Davis; Senior Vice President of The BHTA and VP at Atlantis, Paradise Island, Jackson Weech; joined Promotion Board heads: Fred Lounsberry (Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board); Ian Rolle (Grand Bahama Island Tourism Board); Kerry Fountain (Bahamas Out Island Promotion Board); Joe Dargavage (Association of Bahamas Marinas) and Vernice Walkine (Nassau Airport Development Company) in reporting on their respective sectors.
Commentary from tourism representatives conveyed optimism as stakeholders reported robust booking pace, particularly in the high-end luxury markets and key sectors such as the yachting and boating segment of the tourism market. Stakeholders predicted a consistent, marked improvement in occupancy rates throughout the wider industry in the 3rd and 4th quarter of 2021 which should continue throughout 2022.
“The future looks bright for tourism in our region. I believe, through collaboration, we can navigate a steady and sure path to recovery. By continuing to encourage adherence to sound health and safety protocols for visitors and our local population, and with the implementation of prescribed preventative measures including a robust and comprehensive vaccination strategy, we will meet and surpass the challenges we face today,” stated Robert “Sandy” Sands, President of the BHTA. “Also, key to the recovery of our tourism sector is the continued enhancement of private sector participation in the decision-making process locally and in our source markets regarding matters pertaining to health and safety mitigation and prevention strategies.”
The BHTA meeting brought together a cadre of formidable tourism representatives from leading Caribbean destinations; Senator Rudy Grant, CEO of The Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association; Stacy Cox, CEO of The Turks & Caicos Hotel and Tourism Association and Adam Stewart, Executive Chairman of the Sandals Resorts International (SRI) and The ATL Group and President of The Sandals Foundation. Each speaker provided attendees with invaluable insight into their respective jurisdictions’ journey since the onset of the pandemic; the “Lessons Learnt operating a Tourism Business Amidst COVID”.
Adam Stewart; speaking from a regional perspective, given Sandal’s footprint throughout The Bahamas and The Caribbean, Stacy Cox from Turks and Senator Grant from Barbados echoed the positive sentiments regarding the anticipated recovery of the tourism industry expressed by senior stakeholders during the BHTA meeting.
Stewart during his presentation commented; “There is absolutely a light at the end of this tunnel; the worst is far behind us; the Caribbean has been the darling of the world and the Americas for decades upon decades, it is the most beautiful part of the world; the richness of the people, the soul, all of it cannot be achieved anywhere else on the planet and as a result I feel very strongly about where the (recovery) is heading for us.”
Additional common messaging included the significance of widespread compliance with local health and safety protocols. Senator Grant emphasized “how critical it was that everyone followed directives and protocols in order to curb the spread of the covid virus.” He ended his presentation with an apt mantra “you are as strong as your weakest link”. The panelists were unified in expressing how important it was for public and private sector to work together to ensure all voices would be heard as jurisdictions continue to face challenges posed by COVID. Stewart underscored the need for tourism to have a seat at the table in order to “Strike the Balance” necessary to afford the hospitality industry the best possible opportunity to recover from decimation and to survive long enough to span the “Bridge of Time” until it could achieve the velocity required to break-even; given the reality that some hotels today were only achieving single digit occupancies, and others, 15% or 20% occupancy levels.
Another important topic discussed by the panelists was the vaccination strategy of the respective destinations. Senator Grant and Stacy Cox spoke of their success; Barbados has been able to attain a vaccination rate of 20% of the overall population, a total of 60,000 persons; and Turks and Caicos 32 % of the population. Stacy Cox reported Turks received their first batch of 10,000 Pfizer vaccines in January 2021; an additional 23,000 arrived in February and they were expecting a third batch of 19,000 in April 2021. Recognizing the resistance by some members of the local community to taking the vaccine, Turks and Caicos’ public and private sector embarked upon a public outreach campaign, using forums, educational programs, social media, educational videos and local influencers to “lead by example” and help dispel myths and misunderstandings by talking about their own real experiences with the vaccine. Stacey Cox spoke to the success of their efforts, noting that the number of vaccinated hotel workers jumped from 10% to 70%, according to the results of a survey of TCHTA members.
The Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association will continue to provide opportunities for collaboration and understanding between the public and private sector; regional and offshore industry partners, through forums such as the panelist session held on March 25th 2021.