Even though Hurricane Dorian sat over Grand Bahama and the Abacos for 30 hours in early September, devastating the islands, the Bahamas overall still had a record-breaking 2019. In total, the destination saw an increase of 8.1 percent in air arrivals in 2019 versus 2018. When you look at air and sea arrivals, that number jumps a bit to 9.8 percent.
What’s of note, however: Each month from January to July posted at least a 7.7 percent year-over-year increase from the same month of the year prior, with four instances of improvements between 16.6 and 28.8 percent. August showed a minor improvement with 1.2 percent. Then Hurricane Dorian swept through a handful of islands in the country’s north. September, October and November were down 14.7, 11.7 and 13 percent, respectively, in air arrivals.
Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation Director General Joy Jibrilu, at the Caribbean Travel Marketplace at Baha Mar, said she was pleased to see the overall increase in arrivals but was disappointed because the Bahamas was on pace to smash the record prior to September. She added the Bahamas has an image problem – but not in the way you would think.
With over 700 islands and 2,000 keys making up the country, Hurricane Dorian taught everyone to use the names of each island. “When the world said that the Bahamas were devastated by Hurricane Dorian, when in fact it was our two, northernmost islands—the Abacos and the east end of Grand Bahama—we all paid a collective price,” Jibrilu said. Had the reporting of the storm and people’s understanding of the destination’s geography been better, the Bahamas likely would have closed out the year on a much better note.
With that said, there is still plenty going on in the Bahamas to look forward to in 2020 and beyond. As for Freeport, which was affected by Dorian, Jibrilu reports that 100 percent of cruises are operation, 84 percent of hotels are open, 84 percent of restaurants have reopened, 75 percent of tours are running, and 55 percent of attractions and watersports are available. In regard to the Abacos, the islands are taking their time, Jibrilu said; however, South Abaco has its airport and several hotels and restaurants open.
It’s why the Bahamas’ new marketing campaign is based around the slogan “Still Rockin’.” It follows 2019’s “Fly Away” campaign in partnership with Lenny Kravitz. He remains the brand ambassador, but the video now has the voiceover say: “Here in the Bahamas, we do things differently. When the calm after the storm means shaking it off, rebuilding and never missing a beat. Our spirit keeps us moving, our heritage keeps us dancing and our shores keeps us chilling. And our visitors, from first-timers to long-time friends, keep us smiling. This is the Bahamas and we're still rockin’.”
So far, the Bahamas is off to a strong start in 2020 with a 7.9 increase in forward bookings for January—although it tails off in February (-.5 percent) and March (-28.2 percent). The good news is airlift is scheduled to increase in the next three months. JetBlue is adding a second daily flight from Boston; United is adding a new non-stop Saturday flight from Denver; and Southwest is adding a new seasonal Saturday flight from Houston—all of which fly into Nassau. In Canada, Air Canada, Sunwing and Westjet are adding flights from Montreal, Toronto and Calgary.
The big news in the Bahamas is the construction of the new Port of Nassau (Jibrilu calls it “transformational”). The $250 million project headlines the downtown Nassau revitalization project. It will open in 2022. Also in Nassau and opening this June will be the Margaritaville Beach Resort. The five-star property will have. 288 rooms, open-air shopping, a movie theatre and more.