With the prospect of a twice weekly flight of Delta Airlines from the regional hub of Atlanta, Georgia, Abaco hoteliers and tourism professionals were urged to “fix product issues” so they can be ready to enjoy the full benefit of the additional 7,200 additional annual visitors.
Kerry Fountain, the Out Islands Promotion Board’s Executive Director, said the flight, slated to begin service in December, is expected to provide service year-round, even during the slowest periods like September.
“Delta’s intention is to operate this flight on a year-round basis two days a week. This is fair warning, Delta is here on a year-round basis. They will not be here if the hotels are closed in September,” Fountain said.
He said the 70-seater service, which will fly into Marsh Harbour every Tuesday and Saturday, beginning on December 19, was “vital” to broadening Abaco’s airlift access reach beyond Florida.
Fountain went on to say that commercial air access to Abaco from the US, which accounts for 85 percent of its visitor market, is currently limited to American Airlines out of Miami, Bahamasair from West Palm Beach, and Silver Airways from Fort Lauderdale.
Now, besides opening up Atlanta, the new Delta service will also link into the Bahamas’ key northeastern markets of New York, Boston, Washington D.C., and Baltimore.
With this service coming, Fountain called on Abaco hotels and the wider tourism industry to focus on product upgrades, likening it to preparing a dinner party for expected guests.
Yet for resorts based on Treasure Cay and Green Turtle Cay, the visitors brought in by Delta will be faced with an $85 one-way cab fare and ferry journey to reach them.
“That is expensive,” Fountain added. “What are the things we have to do to correct that, lower the product costs?
“We have to identify the product issues and fix the product issues before this flight comes down. What do our hotels need to do to attract potential visitors from the US, even Canada, which will feed into that Delta flight?”
He questioned whether hotel websites were mobile and iPhone friendly, given that this was how many travelers today did their research and booked vacations. And whether hotels were ready to handle queries from potential visitors in the evening hours of 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., when most persons were at home and eyeing potential vacation spots.
“One of the things we realize is that we all come to the table with good ideas and solutions, but we don’t come to the table with dollars to help hotels get it done,” Fountain continued.
He went on to say that the Out Islands Promotion Board’s marketing efforts would be in vain if hotels could not implement the necessary measures to ensure their success.
He added that, for that reason, the Board had “stepped up” and moved to locate the right service providers who could help small Family Island hotels. This even involved negotiating contracts with them, in an effort to get a better price, and paying these providers on the hotels’ behalf.
He explained that the $500 per month cost to maintain the website for the Sandpiper Inn at Schooner Bay, for example, was being split $400/$100 between the Promotions Board and the resort.
Room allocation management and general management support were other services of use to Family Island hotel owners, the Executive Director said, adding that many proprietors often owned multiple businesses such as gas stations and grocery stores.
Emphasizing that the Board wanted to make the costs of getting to the Family Islands the same as those for accessing Nassau, Fountain said the Boards was also looking at strategies and incentives to entice visitors.
“We have failed to convert our proximity that we brag about in our advertising. We have failed to convert that into affordability.
“Grand Bahama is 112 miles, and Exuma is 316 miles, from Miami, but look at price. Abaco to Miami is $448 and it’s 205 miles away.”
Fountain, speaking while at the Abaco Business Outlook conference, said the Out Island Promotion Board has a $250 airfare credit promotion for guests staying consecutive nights at participating hotels.
“When we do a spot analysis, proximity is right at the top,” Fountain explained. “When we talk about weakness, the cost of getting to the islands is always right up at the top.
“I think what is required, and we are now in the embryonic stages of exploring how we do it, but what is really required is a national airlift plan for the Family Islands. We need to determine how to make it not just more convenient but more affordable as well.”