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Airlines ‘very positive’ in airlift discussions

NAD will negotiate incentives to airlines to boost service in time for Baha Mar
Guardian Business Editor

Published: Oct 22, 2013

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On the heels of attending a global airlift development conference, the top executive at Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD) said she is confident The Bahamas can generate the additional airlift that will be needed when Baha Mar’s onset grows this country’s hotel room inventory by 25 percent in December 2014.

Vernice Walkine, who attended the World Routes event in Las Vegas from October 5 to October 8, said the Bahamian delegation held “very, very positive” meetings with “21 or 22” carriers, who indicated they would be interested in helping The Bahamas to meet its airlift needs.

Walkine, president and chief executive of NAD, noted that when Baha Mar comes on stream, room inventory in The Bahamas will increase by 25 percent, in comparison to the 16 percent inventory expansion on a smaller base that occurred when Atlantis opened.

“They were all positive in the sense they all understand the story of Baha Mar, they understand we are growing the room inventory so we need to grow the demand, and they are willing to grow with us, so from that perspective it was all positive.  Not a single carrier said ‘we are not interested’, it was always a very positive message.”

Walkine attended the event along with Director General of Tourism David Johnson, Nassau and Paradise Island Promotions Board CEO Fred Lounsberry, Baha Mar’s Senior Vice President of Administration and External Affairs Robert Sands and Baha Mar’s Senior Vice President of Finance Vaughn Roberts.

She said that the “next step” will be for NAD to enter into direct negotiations with airlines to determine their specific requirements for adding or expanding service to The Bahamas.

“We will have to deal with each specific carrier, since they have different methods of operating and requirements, so our team is meeting with them very, very, shortly to determine the priorities for us.  We need to know exactly what it will take to stimulate the demand; are we talking about different frequencies or larger equipment?  So that needs to be determined, then we go back to them and say this is what we are going to offer, what does it take?”

Walkine added that NAD has the ability to offer the airlines certain concessions that can incentivize their decision to fly to The Bahamas.

“Our policy would be wherever there is new service from a new gateway we are prepared to offer concessions on landing fees, terminal fees, so it becomes a very material benefit for them for a period of one to two years.  It’s a way to stimulate the business for them so they are not disadvantaged in any way; they are not worried about those costs while the service gains traction; so it’s important to them to know the incentives would be available in addition to what the Ministry of Tourism or the promotions board would offer.”

Developing increased airlift has been identified by Baha Mar and others in the industry as among the most fundamental factors in ensuring a successful opening for the mega-resort.  The company has indicated it wants to bring in not only more tourists from North America, but also tourists from non-traditional source markets such as Asia or Latin America.

Robert Sands, senior vice president of administration and external affairs for Baha Mar, said it was critical for Baha Mar to attend World Routes given its importance as a meeting place for individuals involved in airline network planning and development to gather with “end users” such as airports, countries and resorts.

“It gave us a tremendous opportunity to meet with key producers of airlift to the destination and also potential new carriers, to discuss the ways in which we can work towards ensuring there is adequate airlift in time for the opening of Baha Mar, which will be the real cause for this 25 percent increase.

“There was a tremendous amount of interest in expanding airlift to The Bahamas, and I can say that the airlines are very much aware of the need for Nassau and Paradise Island in particular to grow their airlift capacity, and they’re very much aware of the timelines for this to happen.

“I can say they are truly excited about the project, the brand partners, the scale of the resort, and I think that augurs well to The Bahamas as a tourism destination.”

In addition to the recent tabling in Parliament of the gaming bill, which Baha Mar has said is critical to its ability to be competitive in the area of gaming as a “casino-centric” resort, Sands said that he feels the company is “beginning to accomplish some of the milestones... to ensure all of the stars are aligned” in time for a successful opening of the mega-resort in December 2014.

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