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|Briland Braves Another Winter Season|
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|Posted by:||Jan 2nd 2011, 06:41:18 am|
|Fig Tree News Team||http://www.tribune242.com/business/12302010_alFIhotels_business_Page1-2
Thursday, December 30, 2010
By ALISON LOWE
As Harbour Island hotel operators saw properties booked full, other Family Island owner suffered a painfully quiet Christmas, with one Cat Island resort reporting "the worst season in 19 years" of operation.
In a series of interviews conducted by Tribune Business with small hotel operators throughout the Bahamas, the consensus among managers/owners in Abaco, Cat Island and Long Island was that conditions are more lean than ever.
In contrast to the 3 to 4 per cent average occupancy increase over 2009 reported to have been seen at Nassau/Paradise Island hotel properties this Christmas, staff at all three properties contacted in these islands have seen their hours reduced going into the Christmas season, as occupancies dropped lower than in 2009, a year which saw the economy tank.
Molly McIntosh, sales manager at the Green Turtle Club in Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, said that while the level of inquiries would suggest there is great demand for what the boutique property has to offer, it is lack of flight availability and the increasing cost of reaching the club that are hurting.
"I hate giving bad news and complaining, but we are definitely down compared with last year. We've got about half the business we had then," she said, revealing that while the property would normally be full "from Christmas Day to around January 2" it is now running occupancies of between 35 and 40 per cent.
The resort normally hires extra temporary staff in the traditionally busy Christmas/New Year's period, but has this year taken on no extra employees and been forced to reduce staff hours by 50 per cent in the run-up to Christmas.
Waldemar Illing, whose family owns the 16-room Greenwood Beach Resort on Cat Island, said bookings for the Christmas/New Year period are around 20 per cent off those registered last year, which were less than those seen in 2008.
"This is rough," he said. "This is the slowest Christmas and New Year's in our 19 years." Although no one has been laid-off, and efforts were made to find ways to occupy them with maintenance and other activities, staff at Greenwoods had their hours reduced, too.
Meanwhile, Karin Kuska, a manager at the boutique Stella Maris Resort Club in Long Island, said business was around 10 per cent down from 2009, at around 50 per cent for the Christmas period on average. Throughout the year the property recorded average occupancy levels of roughly 40 per cent, added Ms Kuska.
"We realised that somehow the economy affects tourism this year even more than year before when we had a bigger crisis, so our assumption is that last year people were a little bit more positive and believed in a faster turnaround, whereas this year we have the feeling people got a little bit insecure (about the economy)," said the manager.
Ms McIntosh in Green Turtle Cay blamed lack of flight availability and rising airfare costs, combined with the price of taxis and ferries to reach the Green Turtle Club from the airport, for being the major issues for tourism on the island.
"Travel to Abaco is definitely not for sissies," quipped Ms McIntosh. "If we had more flights coming out of Florida at more reasonable prices, I think this place would be almost full."
Continental Airlines recently reduced their flights out of Fort Lauderdale to nearby Treasure Cay Airport by 50 per cent - from two to one a day - she noted, with a round trip ticket on this route costing around $600 during the Christmas period.
"Last minute type flights" from cities such as Baltimore or Newark to Abaco have cost as much as $1,300 per person this year, added Ms McIntosh.
"A one-way cab ride from Marsh Harbour airport to the ferry dock, where guests would catch a ferry to the hotel, will cost $85 for a 22 mile stretch, while if guests miss the ferry, a charter will cost a further $85.
"It isn't just us who are suffering about the lack of business this year.
"The home owners that rent out their properties are complaining bitterly, too," she added.
Mr Illing said the price of air travel to Cat Island and the continuing depressed conditions in the US are the two primary reasons for Greenwood's not-so-merry Christmas.
"People are more cautious with their money.
"There are a lot of very, very cheap offers on the market all over the Caribbean.
"Starting last year, people who have been coming in regularly over the years, repetitive guests, say very frankly 'I lost 30 - 40 per cent of my stock and I can't sell my house, so I can't afford it this year'."
A flight to Cat Island from Florida averages around $450 per person, he added, and lamented: "You could fly transatlantically for that if you get a good deal."
By contrast, Harbour Island hoteliers reported that - aside from the impact of cancellations related to bad weather on the east coast of the US last weekend - business is good.
"This is traditionally one of the busiest 10-day periods of the year and we are fabulously on target," said Tracy Barry, owner/manager of boutique hotel, The Landing.
"We were delighted to see that having just increased from seven to 13 rooms, all of them are filled, and it's the same with the restaurant.
"Harbour Island in general is busy. All golf carts are rented, you can't get in for dinner unless you book two months in advance...that's what usually happens and this year we are not seeing anything different," said Ms Barry.
Juanita Percentie, manager of the Tingum Village property on the island, said: "It was great besides the winter storms on the east coast (of the US).
"We were booked 100 per cent but only 50 per cent came.
"Some came late and for a reduced period, and some rescheduled for another time."
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