Still standing and ready to welcome visitors
he Bahamian tourism industry enjoyed a historic year in 2018, posting a record 6.6 million arrivals tally, and was maintaining momentum right up to the arrival of category five Hurricane Dorian. International arrivals in August were up 13%, including a 2.1% growth rate from Canada, while Canadian-originating air capacity was up 7% and fall bookings from here were looking strong.
But all that positivity came to a screeching halt with Dorian’s arrival over Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands on Sept. 1. Over the next two weeks international arrivals were down 19% while arrivals from Canada sagged a whopping 43%.
So, when Bahamas Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar stood up to keynote the launch of his island nation’s new Fly Away brand campaign in Montreal this week, he explained, “If it strikes you as curious that we would move forward with our launch at this time I would assure you that we believe our work marketing Bahamas tourism and communicating how essential tourism is to everyone in the country has never been more important than it is today.”
And he added, “It is not business as usual in the Bahamas – that will be years away – but the tourism business goes on and it is crucial as we go forward.”
The minister conceded, “Clearly, Hurricane Dorian will be the most urgent and influential story in the Bahamas for years to come as we work to rebuild our island and the lives of the people impacted by the storm.”
But he stressed, “At least as urgent – if not more so – is the story that the Bahamas is still standing and still ready to welcome visitors.”
Prior to the launch, tourism ministry deputy director general Ellison ʻTommy’ Thompson told CTP that when Dorian hit Abaco and Grand Bahama, the 16-island destination lost 20% of its overall product.
The Freeport international airport in particular suffered severe damage and getting the terminal back to international standards is a priority. While the leisure sector as a whole will have limited capacity because of the massive rebuilding task ahead, Thompson revealed that cruise vessels will resume visits within the next fortnight.
He noted, “The cruise lines have been fantastic in terms of their relief efforts – bringing in supplies and aid workers and repatriating victims to Nassau,” adding “All our partners have been amazingly supportive.”
According to the deputy DG, “Bahamians are very resilient and we expect the two affected islands to be up and running within the next two years. It will cost billions so never before have tourist dollars been so impactful.”
Pointing out that travel and tourism contributes fully half of the gross domestic product of the Bahamas, Thompson said, “Our 14 other islands are open for business, so the best assistance we can get is for people to keep travelling and perhaps stay an extra night or two and spend an additional $50.”
The new brand campaign, featuring Bahamians telling their unique stories, is backgrounded by the hit song Fly Away by world-famous singer-songwriter Lenny Kravitz, who owns a house on Eleuthera.