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Tourists come first

Published: Jul 31, 2013

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The Bahamian economy is driven by the tourism and financial services sectors. Tourism and tourism-related construction and manufacturing combined provide an estimated 60 percent of gross domestic product.

Who is the Bahamian tourist? Is it the cruise ship passenger, the hotel vacationer, the yachtsman or the second-home owner? Not all tourists are created equal.

Cruise ship passengers spend considerably less time and money in The Bahamas than other tourists. The Ministry of Tourism enthusiastically points to the increase in cruise ship arrivals that now outpaces arrivals through Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA). In May, the Ministry of Tourism estimated that total cruise ship arrivals for 2012 may exceed 4.5 million. This is not surprising given that a single ship can carry more than 4,000 passengers.

Without a doubt The Bahamas is a leading cruise ship destination. But cruise ships come to The Bahamas for only several hours or a brief one-night stay. A 2012 report from the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association notes that average visitor spending is down to $64.80 for 2011/2012 from $83.93 for 2008/2009. Though such statistics only include the ports of Nassau and Freeport and are limited to six-month time periods, cruise ship passenger spending relative to other destinations is low in The Bahamas.

Attempting to fully capture the spirit of The Bahamas in several hours, or even a night, is impossible. The Ministry of Tourism announced that it is planning an ambitious revamp of the Welcome Center at Nassau Harbour. But unless this is combined with an immediate revamp of downtown Nassau, tourists will still be welcomed to congested and smog-filled streets.

Downtown revitalization efforts should be spearheaded for Bahamians too and not just based on tourist expectations. Bahamians want to dine at downtown cafes. Why should the tourist be the sole consideration?

The Bahamas caters to the tourist, not to the Bahamian. LPIA was in dire need of an upgrade, its antiquated structure showed years of neglect. The U.S. departures terminal was completed first, then the international arrivals unit, and last but not least, we eagerly await a domestic terminal.

The New Providence Road Improvement Project was planned over a decade ago; its delayed implementation led to extreme frustration to motorists and business owners. But alas, the Airport Gateway Project will improve the capacity of the road system to and from the airport to facilitate the movement of tourists to and from two major hotels, Atlantis and Baha Mar.

The prime minister spoke enthusiastically recently about the construction of a medical center in Governor’s Harbour, Eleuthera.

He said: “These three tourism projects together with the construction by government of a modern multi-million-dollar mini-hospital, which will begin shortly in Palmetto Point, will provide hundreds of new construction and permanent jobs for the people of Eleuthera. It will also prove to be a boost to the growth of tourism and second-home owners who will have the assurance of essential medical care being readily available right here in Eleuthera.”

Yet again, a crucial infrastructure project was promoted for the tourists’ appeal, not simply because Eleuthera is in desperate need for advanced medical facility. The Bahamas needs to focus on upgrading infrastructure and services for its own people, then the tourists will come.

The Bahamas seems to cater more to those who spend several hours wandering around our capital than to those who live here.


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