“It is with great pride and pleasure that I report The Bahamas’ strongest tourism numbers in history,” said Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar at the annual Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association Marketplace, hosted by his country last week at Baha Mar on Nassau. “We look forward to… continuing the momentum in 2020 as we show the world that The Bahamas continues to be open for business.”
That’s for sure: The 2019 arrivals total more than 7.2 million, a 9 percent increase increase over 2018 and the first time ever that The Bahamas topped 7 million. Stopover visitors also set a record of almost 1.8 million, 1.45 of whom were from the United States. Moreover, all this was in spite of mass media coverage of Hurricane Dorian that gave the impression that all the Bahamas had been flattened.
The real story? Dorian only slammed through two of the archipelago’s 16 destinations, GBI has already resurrected tourism facilities. In fact, even in the Abacaos, which Joy Jibrilu, director of The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, described as “truly a sad story,” the southern part of Great Abaco has recovered its airport and some hotels. “Dorian dealt a blow, but it did not knock us out,” she declared.
It makes sense, then, that the current marketing campaign, which features Lenny Kravitz, is called “Still Rockin’.” Sure, “It’s Better in the Bahamas” makes for a funnier double entendre, but “Still Rockin’” neatly sums up the unstoppable nature of The Bahamas’ tourism industry.
Delta and United Airlines have expanded their schedules to The Bahamas, and if Jibrilu singled out the new United flight from Denver, that’s because it “opens up the West Coast to Nassau”—part of yet another trend you read about here in the December issue of Recommend. Jibrilu also brought up the profusion of inter-island ferries and flights connecting with Out Islands so pristine that “if we see someone on the beach, we go to another beach.” Meanwhile, Nassau-Paradise Island’s Renaissance shows no signs of stopping. “Baha Mar caused other hotels to up their game,” said Jibriulu.
The Rebirth of Nassau
Fred Lounsberry, CEO of the Nassau-Paradise Island Promotion Board (now celebrating its 50th year) knows what she means. He’s glad to see that the five-star, 288-room Margaritaville Beach Resort will open as part of The Pointe development in June, and a $520 million investment in the seaport “will also change downtown.” He called the cruise terminal development (including an boardwalk system), “the crown jewel” of this renaissance, which makes sense when you consider that 32 percent of this planet’s cruises take place in the Caribbean region, and the largest share of that business goes to The Bahamas. Lounsberry also pointed out that the cruise terminal project is “not a ten-year project; it’s a two- to three-year project.”
Also unique: A new Cruise & Stay program will combine sailings on the 1,400-passenger Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line from West Palm Beach with stays at Nassau-Paradise Island hotels. Finally, the government plans to approve taller buildings to accommodate more condos, and Nassau-Paradise island has increased airlift by almost 35 percent since 2018.
The Takeaway for Travel Advisors
Later, in a one-on-one with the tourism minister, I asked him for his elevator speech about why travel advisors should recommend his country. “The Bahamas is not just one island,” he replied, “so whatever you have conjured up in your mind, we have an option for you. All 16 of the major destinations are incredibly beautiful, they use U.S. dollars, there’s a great diversity in offerings, we’re easy to get to, it’s an English-speaking country—why would you consider any other place?” He reminded me, too, that despite the dramatic range in the size of hotels and the equally astonishing rise in visitor arrivals, The Bahamas remains a “high-end destination, not just one that’s only cheap and cheerful.”