While a number of Caribbean destinations struggle, resorts in the Bahamas are bouncing back from a tough period, attracting vacationers, gamblers and sun worshipers.
Hotel occupancy in the Bahamas in the first half of 2019 was up 19% from a year earlier, according to hotel-data firm STR. Revenue per available room, a popular industry metric, was up 27% to $231. Nearby destinations’ rates have fallen or stayed flat.
In part, the strong Bahamas numbers reflect the emergence of the $4.2 billion, 2,300-room Baha Mar resort and casino, which officially opened last year after falling more than two years behind schedule and changing ownership.
The Bahamas may also be gaining from misfortunes elsewhere in the region, hotel analysts say. A plague of unsightly, smelly seaweed has hurt business at Cancún and other Mexican resorts. Political turmoil has discouraged tourism in Puerto Rico, while the mysterious deaths of several American tourists in the past year have slowed traffic to the Dominican Republic.
“The Bahamas should be a natural beneficiary,” said Rick Newton, an analyst at Resort Capital Advisors.
Also helping the Bahamas turnaround, analysts say, is an increase in air traffic. Nearly four dozen flights land in the capital, Nassau, daily, thanks in large part to deals between resorts and airlines.
And with Baha Mar, the Bahamas is attracting more luxury travelers. The resort’s three hotels include a Grand Hyatt, an SLS and a Rosewood that offer some suites going for more than $1,000 a night.
Guests can visit the resort’s 40 restaurants and lounges, a casino with more than 1,000 slot machines, an 18-hole golf course and a flamingo-habitat exhibit.
“It’s been a lot more sophisticated,” said Jack Ezon, founder of travel agency Embark, referring to the Bahamas. “I really think Baha Mar’s opening signaled that change. It’s buzzy, and it’s fun—but it’s a more elegant fun.”
It is a turnaround for the Bahamas from the years when the original developer of Baha Mar struggled to get the project built. From 2015 to 2017, the hotel occupancy rates dropped 14%, and revenue per room dropped 18%, according to STR.
During construction, Baha Mar experienced setbacks, including a change in ownership, a bankruptcy filing and multiple grand-opening postponements. But once it opened, hoteliers say the added room supply and emphasis on luxury shattered the long-held monopoly of the Atlantis as the Bahamas’ major resort destination.
“By delivering the service and the product, we’ve been able to turn it around,” said Graeme Davis, the president of Baha Mar. “It’s a change in perception of the Bahamas as a luxury destination.”
A spokesman for Atlantis said it has drawn a record number of guests this year, unveiled newly designed guest suites and expanded its marine-life programs. The spokesman added that Baha Mar isn’t the first luxury resort in the Bahamas, noting that the luxury Cove at Atlantis and the Four Seasons’ Ocean Club have been around for years.
China Construction America brought in a fleet of workers from mainland China to build Baha Mar. The group plans to employ Chinese workers again to build a $250 million boutique hotel called Margaritaville, of which it is a partial owner.
The resort, with Jimmy Buffett ’s Margaritaville brand as a partner, is slated to open next August. The group says it is confident it can attract guests to its 150-room resort and buyers for the accompanying 126 residences.
“It creates a pretty magical place that rivals Atlantis and Baha Mar,” said Philip Jalufka, president and chief executive of Legacy International, the marketing group behind the project. “This brand brings in the firemen and the billionaires.”
Rotten, Smelly Algae Plagues Some Mexican Beaches (July 27 He added that the group has plans to build similar resorts nearby. “Replicating that three to five more times is on the horizon,” Mr. Jalufka said.
Can the Bahamas resorts continue to grow at the current clip?
“No, I don’t think so,” Mr. Newton said. Once the recent turmoil in neighboring islands abates and Baha Mar’s novelty wears off, he suggested, growth will revert to 3% to 5% a year.
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