By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
The Bahamas was top of the heap prior to Hurricane Dorian with its 17 percent hotel occupancy growth leading the Caribbean, a top regional tourism executive said yesterday.
Frank Comito, pictured, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Associations (CHTA) director general, told the Bahamas Business Outlook conference: The Bahamas was off in a big way before September 1. You were running actually next to Bonaire at the top of the heap in terms of percentage growth, running at 17 percentage growth at that point on tourism year-on-year.
You can see in November the occupancy drop, so it was running year-to-date 65.5 percent, and then in November, year-on-year, it dropped a couple of points. He voiced optimism, though, over The Bahamas prospects for a rapid post-Dorian rebound, saying: It (tourism) is an incredibly resilient industry, despite what many of us think, as it rebounds quickly and it rebounds better.
Mr Comito said natural disasters presented a contagion risk for both The Bahamas and wider Caribbean, with media coverage leading many travellers to believe this whole country was devastated by Dorian rather than just two islands. He recalled how Hurricane Maria had a similar effect on the whole Caribbean in 2017, even though it struck just Dominica, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
Look at Hurricane Maria in 2017, Mr Comito said. Before that the Caribbean was having one of the best years ever. In fact, I think it was on track to exceed stopover arrivals for over 30m visitors. Hurricane hits, and received visitor arrivals all dropped for the entire Caribbean.
In fact, only six destinations - less than 25 percent of the region - were hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Seventy-plus percent was not even having a bad hair day. So you see that it has a contagion effect, just like it has in The Bahamas.
Recalling how the Caribbean lost over one million visitors, and some $900m in revenue, due to the 2017 hurricane season, Mr Comito said the region had rebounded by having the right kind of messaging out there.
It was now beating a 40-year trend analysis that the CHTA helped produce in conjunction with the World Tourism Council on how long would it take destinations take to bounce back following disasters, with shuttered hotels now back on line.
Mr Comito, though, warned Bahamians against irresponsibility by posting inaccurate social media information on the impact of future storms given how this could undermine recovery efforts.
You had a lot of Bahamians repeating misinformation on social media that instantaneously gets to the international media, who pick up on it, he warned. Thats a danger. Recovery and restoration is the responsibility of everyone. Doing irresponsible things like that impacts the lives of everyone.
Mr Comito said the Ministry of Tourism needs to maintain diligence and continue to mitigate Dorian-related fall-out, focusing on social media outreach and links with travel agents and travel partners, in addition to having promotional brand campaigns.
He added that a rapid response with accurate information is essential, and said the CHTA will shortly be sharing a regional crisis communications manual for the entire Caribbean to help with combating the negative messages that may hit countries which suffer a disaster.
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