Ellison Thompson, deputy director general, ministry of tourism and aviation for the Bahamas, briefed an audience of media and travel advisors at Travel Leaders Group’s New York offices on the recovery of Grand Bahama Island and the Abacos from the effects of Hurricane Dorian. Travel Leaders Group CEO Ninan Chacko moderated the discussion.
“Tourism is 50 percent of our GDP, and six out of 10 jobs are directly or indirectly related to tourism, so it’s a really important driver for the Bahamas,” Thompson said. “I say the best way you can help us is to come to the Bahamas – it gives us revenue for rebuilding.”
A major problem, Thompson said, has been media coverage that described the Bahamas as “devastated” by Hurricane Dorian, without specifying that the damage was confined to the destination’s northernmost islands: Grand Bahama and the Abacos. “So people who were actually coming to Nassau or Bimini or Eleuthera, they thought we were one landmass,” Thompson said. “It’s the distance between say New York and Philadelphia. So if something’s happening in Abaco and Freeport, it does not affect Nassau.”
Prior to Hurricane Dorian, tourism to the Bahamas had been pacing beyond 2018, which was already a record year with 6.6 million visitors, Thompson said. “Then this unwelcome guest decided to stay and mess things up.”
While Freeport on Grand Bahama Island and the Abacos, which Thompson described as the Bahamas’ second- and third-largest tourism centers, respectively, were damaged by the storm, Nassau – the destination’s biggest tourism center – and the other islands were not. These include Paradise Island, Eleuthera, Andros, Bimini, Berry Islands, Exumas, Cat Island, San Salvador, Long Island, Acklins / Crooked Island, Mayaguana and Inagua, as well as the cruise lines’ private island destinations.
All airports in the Bahamas are open, except for Grand Bahama International and Marsh Harbour, Abaco. Hotels in Nassau and Paradise Island remain open, and many hotels and resorts in the Out Islands regularly close during the fall months, reopening in October. Only hotels in Grand Bahama Island and the Abacos will remain closed until further notice. Finally, cruise ships and ferries are still taking passengers to ports in Nassau and the Out Islands, and all cruise ports in the Bahamas are open except for the Port of Freeport on Grand Bahama Island.
Regarding the Port of Freeport: “Right now that’s not open, but we’ve got an indication that Carnival is probably going to be coming back within the next week into Freeport,” Thompson said.
Since there is still some damage to Freeport’s cruise terminal, Thompson said that the return to the port will involve pre-planned excursions. “The expectations are going to have to be managed – people have to know what they’re going into,” Thompson said. “They’re not going into the lap of luxury.”
At the same time, Thompson said that a quick return to Grand Bahama is important to the people there, since Hurricane Dorian marked the second time in three years that the island has been hit by a major storm. “People are going to lose hope if there’s not some stimulation going in,” he said.
To that end, Travel Leaders Group and the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism have partnered on the “Travel Helps the Bahamas” campaign, which will aim to encourage travelers to visit the Bahamas in order to aid its recovery. In addition to a travel advisor education and marketing effort to promote the Bahamas for the fall and winter travel season, Travel Leaders Group will also match money donated by its advisor community through its foundations to aid the Bahamas relief efforts. Currently, the organization has raised $36,000, which it donated to the Ranfurly Homes for Children during the event. This organization provides a safe haven for Bahamian children who have been displaced because of natural disasters, including Hurricane Dorian, as well as death, abandonment or other unfortunate circumstances.
Travel Leaders has also partnered with Royal Caribbean International on an exclusive offer that provides travelers with up to $100 in onboard spending money on Royal Caribbean voyages that visit Nassau and/or Perfect Day at Coco-Cay in The Bahamas. Importantly, this offer is combinable with most of Royal Caribbean’s promotions. It can only be booked through a travel advisor affiliated with Travel Leaders Network, Nexion Travel Group, Tzell Travel Group, Protravel International and ALTOUR.
Travelers can get $100 bonus spending money for suite reservations; $50 per stateroom for balcony accommodations; and $25 per stateroom for interior and ocean view rooms. Reservations must be made October 1-7, 2019 for cruise departures from October 18, 2019.
Meanwhile, new tourism projects in the destination are still underway. Late Wednesday Carnival Corporation announced plans for two major new cruise developments in the destination, one of which will be on Grand Bahama Island. Additionally, Thompson said that the destination is getting additional airlift, including a new Delta flight from Boston to Nassau and additional capacity out of Atlanta to Eleuthera and Exuma. Air Canada is also doubling its winter flights between Montreal and Nassau starting in December, and American Airlines is increasing the size of its aircraft going into Nassau and Eleuthera.