Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar held a town meeting at the Anglican Hall in Marsh Harbour speaking about the future management of the airport and other topics related to his portfolio.
Mr. D’Aguilar opened with the report that tourism is doing “exceptionally well; tourism is doing exceptionally well on the island of Abaco.”
He said that stopover visitors are up over 18 percent for Abaco and nationwide stopover visitors are up 15.1 percent for the first 8 months of 2018.
“That’s an additional 150,000 stopover visitors and estimates say they have spent over $225 million additional dollars in the Bahamas, which is phenomenal,” he said.
“Tourism continues to be the engine of our economy and in places like Abaco it continues to do very, very well.”
He said that there are four reasons why tourism numbers are doing well this year, starting with an excellent economy in the United States of America. He said that 85 percent of our visitors arrive from North America and 76 percent of them from the USA.
He said additionally that the “onboarding of Bahamar has contributed 2,300 rooms to the inventory to Nassau – “if they run at 50 percent occupancy it will contribute about 250,000 additional visitors,” he said.
Mr. D’Aguilar said that the damage to the Southern Caribbean caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria led to many of the tourists expected to go there to have diverted to the islands of The Bahamas.
And he said finally that the Ministry of Tourism having adjusted their marketing strategy and taking advantage of new trends has also contributed to the growth of tourism.
As 70 percent of Americans purchase their vacations online the government decided to take advantage of the technology to gain additional stopover visitors.
He said they recently met with online travel site Expedia – their sales this year are up 25 percent – who sold 318,000 plane tickets to The Bahamas, 423,000 passengers, over 400,000 room nights.
He said the shift to this new strategy is yielding positive results.
Addressing aviation, and airports in particular Mr. D’Aguilar said the government is “looking at creating a silo at the Leonard M. Thompson International Airport (LTIA) where we will create a company that will in turn run that airport in much the same way that NAD (Nassau Airport Development Company) does.
He said that this will likely lead to a new additional passenger charge for the airport, but added that it is needed to generate the funds to afford the upkeep and maintenance of the airport.
He noted that The Bahamas has the most airports per capita in the world, and that after Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) the second busiest airport in The Bahamas is the LTIA in Marsh Harbour
He said that for the first eight months of 2018 LTIA has seen 95,000 visitors to Abaco by air, while 54,000 arrived in Grand Bahama for the same period.
Mr. D’Aguilar said that the money collected here will stay here and maintain the airport here.
“The company will bring focus and determine what to do with the old facility, the new cargo building and other issues,” he said.
“In less used airports like Treasure Cay we are looking for public private partnerships (PPP) – maybe some FBO who is interested in operating that airport come up with a proposal to run that airport; and run it like a commercial operation.”
He said during his recent trip to China he sought to add more stopover visitors from the country to The Bahamas, tapping into the 131 million Chinese who travel every year.
Responding to questions and concerns he noted that his Ministry is looking into what is the best answer to the situation which is happening at Bahama Beach Club in Treasure Cay, where persons having bought a condo with them, are renting it privately on their own leading to issues as they circumvent the fees of the Condo which are used to provide services and maintenance to the area.
He said that It is a legal problem that will need an amendment to the act in order to deal with it
Darren Henfield, North Abaco Minister of Parliament, also in attendance, noted that it is happening all over the country and also falls into a gray area of sorts similar to second homes which are rented via AirBnB.
“It should not be allowed for other persons to operate a hotel within the confines of your hotel,” he said adding that they are looking at ways to address it through AirBnB and other means
Mr. D’Aguilar added that “Why we are working with AirBnB is that we feel that these additional guests need to contribute to the upkeep of the places they visit as they bring additional ware at tare – that’s our belief.”
“We think we can get about 80 percent compliance and use technology to address this issue, and we are working on the legislation.”
Addressing concerns about a ferry service rumored to be operated by a foreign company, Mr. Henfield said that ground and maritime transportation in the country is supposed to be for locals only and he is going to get to the bottom of licenses being granted in Abaco by someone in Nassau – circumventing the local agencies.
“No one should be competing with Bahamians,” he said.