Tuesday, November 2, 2010


THE Ministry of Tourism is embarking on a campaign to transform the way international visitors make their Bahamas travel reservations, hoping the introduction of domestic airlines into global distribution systems such as Expedia and Travelocity will boost bookings beyond Nassau and Grand Bahama.

David Johnson, Director General of Tourism, said a major obstacle to out island tourism bookings is the fact that domestic Bahamian airlines are "invisible" to would-be travellers searching for flights on the Internet abroad.

He said: "We are working to fix things such that those flights are automated and accessible to customers outside The Bahamas. Bahamians know how to get the flights, and we list the airlines on our website, but someone in the US can't get to them through say, the Travelocity booking engine. That can be solved.

"I've got the green light from the minister to take this project on to see how we can give them opportunity to offer their inventory in the global distribution system. It's what all modern airlines thrive on as a must."

Mr Johnson said that by doing this, it would remove any "anxiety" which international travellers may suffer by not being able to make their out island travel bookings ahead of time using the same familiar systems.

Mr Johnson said he has the goal of bringing the initiative to fruition by Easter.

Meanwhile, plans to get more Bahamians into the out islands are also being worked on.

A "companion flies free" programme similar to that offered to international visitors coming to Nassau and Paradise Island was launched for domestic travellers this year, but did not see the level of uptake the Ministry of Tourism had hoped for.

"Getting Bahamians to travel to the out islands instead of to Florida was the main thrust there. We got some business but it wasn't strong. Bahamians were slow to react. I think most thought it was a gimmick - they thought deal was too good to be true."

Another aspect was that "while some considered and understood it, Bahamians found some of the hotel prices from participating hotels far too high, so we are re-shaping that to find ways to correct what our research told us. I think by next summer we will really work out bugs ad have a stronger domestic programme", said the Director General.

Mr Johnson's comments come on the heels of his announcement last week that the Ministry of Tourism is extending its "free companion airfare" programme that was offered to US visitors, which saw the government and hotel operators share the cost of providing a free flights to Nassau or Paradise Island if they committed to a minimum of four nights stay.

Quantifying some of the benefits of the promotion, Mr Johnson revealed that a $7million investment had brought about $60million in "direct returns" for hotels, as he noted that the programme will be extended from September 2010 to June 2011.

At the same time, Mr Johnson revealed to Tribune Business that the Ministry of Tourism hopes by next year to allow the out islands garner more of the benefits of the promotion, by incorporating a new "Fly Free from Nassau" component that will allow visitors to get a free flight from Nassau to an out island if they commit to a minimum number of paid nights there.

Sammy Thurston, owner of the boutique Sammy T's Beach Resort in Cat Island, said both proposed initiatives - the "fly free from Nassau" offer for US visitors and the efforts to ease the process of making out island flight reservations for international travelers - are "will only do good" for the family islands and resorts like his.

"A lot of guests think it's a bit complicated getting to the islands. If we can alleviate that I think it can only help us," he told Tribune Business.

At present, bookings at Sammy T's, which is located on a stretch of pink sand beach in Bennett's Harbour, are 25 per cent down further than they were last year.

"Last year was slow, this year is even slower. November is very empty, and December does not pick up until the end of the month, so I think we're really bottoming out now.

"I hope we will see the return by mid season but this season starting out slow, so any assistance we can get we would appreciate," said the resort owner.

Randy Butler, CEO of Sky Bahamas, said his company was made aware of plans by the Ministry of Tourism to try to incorporate their flight inventory into the Global Distribution System several months ago.

He said Sky Bahamas is "happy to partner with the Ministry of Tourism on anything that will grow our revenue", but has "some questions about the proposal that remain unanswered."

Mr Butler added that he would like to see closer collaboration between the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation on issues relating to the sector.

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