An indicator of a strong return of tourism dollars in The Bahamas and regionally is the healthy rise in alcohol sales, particularly in the high-end category, which has seen a 13 percent increase in performance in The Bahamas and 30 percent increase regionally, according to the top executive of a top regional domestic distributor of wines and spirits in the Atlantic Basin.
Andy Consuegra, chief executive officer of WEBB Banks, a premium wine and spirits distributor, said the trend in regional tourism – which has been driven by pent-up demand for luxury travel – is evident in the uptick in demand for its more premium, higher-end offerings.
“We’re really happy with our performance in 2021 and a lot of it was because the higher end did very well… What we’re seeing in The Bahamas is the same as we’re seeing pretty much throughout the region and the Caribbean. Of course there is a big decrease in the overall number of tourists going into the region and specifically The Bahamas versus pre-pandemic levels, big drop. But what we’re seeing, in sort of the silver lining, in 2021 is an increase at the high end of the tourism spectrum in terms of the villa rentals, the yachts that go into the region and in our case, sales of the very high end brands that we carry,” he said in an interview with Guardian Business.
“The very high end wines and very high end spirits have actually done pretty well throughout the pandemic, both in 2021 and pretty well in 2020 all things considered, since things were shut down for a long time in The Bahamas.”
While much of global travel and hospitality is still recovering, tourism in the Caribbean is recovering faster than any other part of the world, according the World Travel and Tourism Council, with the regional contribution to global gross domestic product (GDP) rising more than 47 percent in 2021, more than the global average of 31 percent.
And while the region had been cautioned about the rapidly spreading Omicron variant and its impact on tourism, Consuegra said he believes that impact will be short-lived.
“I think the pent-up demand for travel is too great, particularly from specific American tourists, they want to travel, they want to get out and they want to go. I think the Omicron variant gives us some bumpiness in the short term, some uncertainty that makes it a little bit more difficult to make different decisions, but I also feel there is a positive in that,” he said.
“Like we saw last year and the year before, if they can travel, they’re not going to go too far away. So for instance, going back to the high-end tourist perspective, we don’t see them going to the Mediterranean as much as they did pre-pandemic, they will come back to the Caribbean.
“For instance, in The Bahamas last year and most of the Caribbean that was open, it was one of the best summers ever, one of the best low seasons that we ever saw. Why? Because they wanted to travel, they wanted to go out, but they didn’t want to go over to Europe, they didn’t want to go too far from home. We see that continuing in 2022. Will it be as robust as last year? Probably not, there’s going to be some intrepid tourists ready to go a bit further away. We also see the trend that started in 2020 and continues on, that is a lot of people working remotely and they can go for three, four weeks and work from different locations in the Caribbean, so that has helped sales a lot.”
WEBB Banks premium products include Skrewball, Ghost Tequila, Stags’ Leap, Caymus, Penfolds and Rodney Strong Vineyards. WEBB Banks also has a subsidiary which distributes top-quality cannabidiol (CBD) and wellness products in the Caribbean and Central America, with a portfolio that includes well-known brands and category leaders including cbdMD, Marley, and Secret Nature, with additional top brands to be announced soon.
Asked how companies like his can capitalize off of this specific and unique time in business, Consuegra said WEBB Banks will continue to operate as it has for more than a decade now.
“We really haven’t changed too much but we’ve increased the intensity of what we’re doing. For us it’s always been about the relationship, about having people on the ground, doing training and talking about our brands and we will continue to do that so we haven’t changed drastically there,” he said.
“I think the biggest change really is this momentum toward the premium and above segment. There’s just more focus in that area. One of our beliefs in this area is, early on in the pandemic with people having to stay at home and sheltering in place, not spending money out traveling in restaurants and bars, they treated themselves to more premium wines, more premium spirits and as they get back out there their tastebuds and what they fell in love with in those early days, stayed with them. So, they’re not consuming more but they are consuming more premium and we see a continuation of that.”