Grand Bahama News

Sunwing’s return applauded

The return of Canadian airline Sunwing to Grand Bahama on December 17 is welcome news for the island’s struggling tourism sector and, in particular, Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach Resort, which has seen declining occupancy numbers over the past two years.

“We are excited to have Sunwing back,” said Viva Club Fortuna General Manager Macro Gobbi.

Historically, Viva Wyndham and Sunwing have enjoyed a strong, beneficial relationship, especially since the closure of the Memories resort in Port Lucaya.

Until 2017, a subsidiary of Sunwing, Blue Diamond Grand Bahama Ltd., was the hotel operator for the resort which was owned at the time by Hutchison Whampoa.

“We work with them in all our hotels, including Mexico and the Dominican Republic, and it is no less for Grand Bahama. The Canadian market appreciates our product here,” Gobbi said.

Sunwing will operate two direct flights into Grand Bahama from Montreal and Toronto. The flights will come once a week from both destinations on Saturdays.

The fall/winter flights begin December 17 and are currently scheduled to end May 2023.

“The forecast is already quite good,” Gobbi added.

According to the general manager, each flight has a 250-passenger capacity.

“So, having Sunwing back for the winter season, we can reach 85 percent occupancy. This is great news for us, especially after struggling with occupancy in the last two years,” he said.

Gobbi explained that in 2021, the resort’s occupancy rate was around 20 percent. In the early quarter of 2022, it was barely hitting the 30 percent mark.

Noting that he was thankful for the summer months – June, July, and August – he said that is when the property saw an increase in numbers.

“Now, in September, October, and November, we are struggling again. So, with Sunwing returning, we can say there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he added.

In preparation for the Canadian guests, several renovation projects are underway at the resort, Gobbi explained.

“The lobby is being overhauled,” he said. “We are changing the concept of one of the restaurants, from Asian to Mexican. We are also renovating 45 rooms, which brings our inventory to a total of 200 refurbished rooms between 2019 and now.”

Gobbi noted that prior to Dorian, there was a plan to renovate all the rooms in a three-year period, 2019-2021.

“However, COVID came along, and the world changed,” he said. “But we are grateful for Sunwing. It is the key to our survival.”

Sunwing’s schedule allows for seven-night stays, which is attractive for some vacationers.

“This is wonderful news for Grand Bahama,” said Carmel Churchill of DonCar Management Services, and Grand Bahama Island Promotion Board (GBIPB) marketing consultant.

“Historically, if we check the data, Sunwing has always flown at near full capacity, so the load factors were pretty excellent.”

She added that the company is known for delivering affordable, fun vacations.

“Grand Bahama and Viva have a history with Sunwing, and so we expect no less as the flights return,” she noted.

Churchill, who is a part of the Bahamas Global Sales Mission team, focuses on Grand Bahama and what it has to offer during the travel marketing of the country.

The mission, which started in Fort Lauderdale earlier this year, moved to Orlando, then on to New Jersey, and New York City. The team then flew into Canada, beginning in Calgary, moving to Toronto, and finishing in Montreal.

Currently, the team is in London at the World Travel Market.

“As we travel from city to city, our audience, which has been travel agents and tour operators, are pleased to see Grand Bahama back out in the market again, to answer questions, especially in terms of the overall recovery of the island,” Churchill said.

“They want to know what the product is like since Dorian and what the experience is going to be like.”

Overall, she noted that the product, Grand Bahama Island, has been well received.

As tourism officials continue to promote the country, particularly Grand Bahama in the global market, Churchill has a message for vendors, taxi drivers, tour operators and other tourism stakeholders.

“We know that you’ve been told before: be prepared for the business that’s coming, but we say with assurance that our time is now. So, what you should be doing is tooling yourselves to deliver an exceptional level of customer service,” she said.

“Whatever you were delivering previously, step it up two notches. These persons that are coming will be the ones that would tell the story of what the Grand Bahama experience is all about.

“And we want them to go back, tell their friends and they all return.”

The Ministry of Tourism, Investments and Aviation has been promoting Grand Bahama abroad in several key markets overseas.

“The Ministry for Grand Bahama has been working in conjunction with them and supporting their efforts to boost our island’s tourism economy by increasing airlift and stopover visitor arrivals,” Minister for Grand Bahama Ginger Moxey said.

“We are extremely excited to have Sunwing return to Grand Bahama in December. There are so many unique, immersive experiences for visitors to enjoy, and I believe that this time around, Canadian travelers will have an opportunity to partake in the diverse offerings and experiences of our island paradise.

“I look forward to welcoming Sunwing back in Grand Bahama.”

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