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SANDS: A’mixed bag’for tourism in 2010

Outgoing Bahamas Hotel Association(BHA)President Robert’Sandy’Sands is calling the year”a mixed bag of revenue gains, higher operating costs, and global uncertainty”, even as most tourism indicators inched up in 2010.

“Indicators in general moved closer to our 2008 pre-recession benchmark,”he said while addressing members of the BHA at its 58th annual general meeting on December 3rd at the Wyndham Nassau Resort.”Projections for next year show continued marginal growth as we slowly pull out of one of the most difficult economic periods in decades.”

Despite the challenges, Sands called on BHA members to be optimistic about the future, pointing to”foundational steps which have been and are being undertaken,”that have led to an emerging interest in tourism investments in The Bahamas.

He said measures that were put in place in 2010 by the public and private sectors should steer the industry out of the doldrums quicker than many of the nation’s competitors. These include major airport infrastructure improvements well underway in Nassau and Abaco and the liberalization of the telecommunications industry, which should bring about improved services at lower costs in the coming years.

He also commented that”room rate integrity has largely been maintained throughout the recession, better positioning many hoteliers as they climb out of the recession and begin to see a return to profitability. Many hoteliers have learned in these lean years how to do more with less,”he indicated, thus creating

more efficient and productive operations.

Efforts by the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation over the past several years towards increased airlift and reduced air travel costs, combined with the highly successful public-private sector Companion Fly Free promotional campaigns, have been key to the marginal but steady improvements in 2010 according to Sands. Group business, which all but disappeared in 2009, is slowly returning, and advanced bookings for 2011 are promising, he added.

“Easier and more affordable airlift to the Family Islands, critical to their development, showed signs of improvement as the Ministry of Tourism and the private sector’s work in several islands generated additional lift, better positioning those islands for growth in 2011,”he stated.

Despite the reasons for cautious optimism, he pointed out that members continued to be straddled with high energy costs, and with the BHA’s help are taking a more earnest look at how to be more efficient. At the policy level, BHA has recommended a series of changes which would stimulate greater efficiencies.

“In the midst of struggling to re-grow our business and capture market share, this year the industry was faced with the sober realities of the Bahamas government’s fiscal dilemma. With few options to raise essential revenue, the hotel room tax jumped from 6 to 10 percent and the departure tax increased by five dollars effective July 1, 2010. Businesses also saw increases in electricity costs and new taxes imposed to support unemployment insurance and a national drug prescription program,”according to the BHA president.

“Industry successfully argued for some measure of relief to the room tax increase for prepaid business and to address other matters of concern to the industry, some which are presently being considered by government”added Sands.

“Without question, these continue to be difficult times for both the public and private sectors. We are faced with the multiple challenges of generating business while minimizing our operating costs, improving service and improving our product,”he stated.

Sands, whose term as president expires this year, also recognized members of the BHA Executive Committee for their service during the past year. These included: Senior Vice-president Ernest Cambridge; Treasurer Peter Maguire; Vice-president for Grand Bahama Michael Weber; Vice-president for the Out Islands Stephen Kappeler; Vice-president for Nassau-Paradise Island Barbara Hanna-Cox; Chairperson for Small Hotels Nina Maynard; Chairperson for Workforce Development Beverly Saunders; and Allied Member Representative Gershan Major.

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