With the opening of Baha Mar, at least in part, and all the controversy and questions surrounding it, there is a quietly “exploding” market in vacation rentals which continue to eat into hotel occupancy rates, with one Bahamian realtor estimating 20 per cent of the country’s stopover visitors are currently using such accommodation.
In a “Tribune” article Arlington (Ali) Capron, principal of RE/MAX Luxury Properties Bahamas, said that he was fielding an ever-increasing volume of calls from investors seeking vacation rental-type properties in Abaco and Exuma.
“Because of the explosion of the vacation rental market, people are calling in saying can I get 6, 8, 9 per cent return on my investment, and which areas will yield this,” Mr. Capron said.
“I’m guiding them to those areas. More people are calling about Exuma and Abaco than ever before. The word is getting out that those are the places to be. High net worth individuals speak to each other and are going to do what others are doing.”
He added that private islands and luxury properties in the Exuma islands chain were becoming especially popular, and said: “The volume of calls in that area have definitely increased.
“High net worth individuals want anonymity, to get away from it all. They want seclusion and a place with low density, like Abaco and Exuma. They want to experience a true island lifestyle, they want to feel different and walk the beach by themselves, and not see anyone.”
With this intense interest comes opportunities to grow the sector and even find ways for Bahamians to be empowered to take advantage of this market.
Abaco is in a good position took take even greater advantage of this market, as the market here has already been established, from the individually owned homes spread across the cays, as well as the more country club-esque properties like Baker’s Bay and Abaco Club at Winding Bay.
The potential for related businesses to also blossom exists as fewer tourists opt to stay in hotels, seeking a ‘true Bahamian experience’.
“People really want the island experience; to engage themselves in the culture of island living,” Mr. Capron said. “They don’t want to go from city to city.”
“That’s why people are calling for Abaco, Exuma and Eleuthera, because they can buy a beachfront property for $200,000. A lot of investors are looking for beachfront properties to build vacation rentals and capitalise on the explosion of the vacation rental experience.
“Hotel occupancies are going to diminish as the years go on,” Mr. Capron predicted.
Mario Carey, president and chief executive at Better Homes & Gardens MCR Bahamas, said previously that the Government needs to better regulate the Airbnb market, both to protect its revenue base and ensure entrepreneurial opportunities for Bahamians exist.
He explained, “Airbnb is going to shift the tourist experience in the Bahamas; in fact, it’s already doing it. Many people are not into the hotel experience any more. A lot of people want to experience the islands; they want to stay in a house and have a cultural experience, and not have to pay for every single meal.
“The Airbnb model is very good for our business, and I think that the Government needs to get a handle on that because they are missing a lot of revenue. They know that hotel revenue is down because the owners of Airbnb aren’t paying room tax, and there is no reason why they should not be able to collect that.
“There has to be a system whereby those persons renting out their homes are paying room tax to the Government,” Mr. Carey emphasized.
Airbnb is an online marketplace and network that enabled homeowners to list/rent short-term stays in their residential properties, with the cost set by the property owner.