Any time a country or region imposes any sort of visa stipulation - even if it’s a waiver - the travel industry sighs a collective groan, knowing the obstacles and headaches to come.
NASSAU — “The Bahamas has been firing on all cylinders,” says Dionisio d’Aguilar, Minister of Tourism and Aviation for the Government of The Bahamas. The Tourism Minister was on hand to welcome participants to The International Travel Partners Conference in Nassau, happily sharing the tourism ministry’s good news from 2017 and 2018.
“It was a historic year for the Bahamian economy in 2018, as we welcomed 6.6 million foreign visitors, the most in any year for the country,” explained Minister d’Aguilar.
Canadians are one of the reasons for the increases, with Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and B.C. travellers leading the charge south to the island nation.
The Bahamas increased international visitors by more than half a million from 2017 to 2018, buoyed by 4.9 million cruise passengers – averaging 13,000 every day, the most ever for the islands. In the first four months of 2019, cruise passenger numbers have increased again, up 10.9%.
But it’s not just cruise bolstering the Bahamian tourism sector. The number of stopover visitors grew 16.7% in 2018 over 2017, and has increased 17% in the first four months of 2019.
Air capacity has also increased and will continue to grow: Air Canada is maintaining larger aircraft for its direct flights from Toronto to Nassau for fall 2019, as well as increasing flight frequency from Montreal to Nassau, while WestJet will increase frequency from Toronto to Nassau.
Minister d’Aguilar spoke on how the tourism ministry has been creative and innovative, looking to new markets like China and Mexico. He added that many travellers chose the Bahamas over other destinations after the 2017 hurricane season. There’s also growing interest in the Family Islands, aka the Out Islands, such as Harbour, Eleuthera, Abacos and the Exumas.
The Bahamas recently revealed their latest marketing campaign, a partnership with Bahamian-American rock star Lenny Kravitz, with his hit song Fly Away luring travellers to discover the islands of the Bahamas.
Another boost to the island economy has been the opening of Baha Mar resort, which opened with the Grand Hyatt in April 2017, SLS in November 2017 and Rosewood in June 2018. “We have given (repeat visitors) another reason to come back with the opening of Baha Mar,” said Fred Lounsberry, CEO of the Nassau Paradise Island “We haven’t had the pipeline of new product (in recent years).”
Baha Mar offers not only a trio of distinctive hotels representing 2,300 rooms, but also includes Royal Blue, a Jack Nicklaus-designed 18 hole golf course, ESPA Spa, Explorers Club for Kids, 20 restaurants, the largest casino in the Caribbean, shopping and The Current Art Gallery and Art Centre, showcasing contemporary Bahamian and international art throughout the resort as well as through exhibitions and classes.
Newly-opened additions to Baha Mar include Carna by Dario Cecchini steakhouse and Skybar at SLS Baha Mar. And coming in 2021 there will be a US$200 million waterpark with rides, wave pool and surf rider.
Nassau will soon welcome another major development, The Pointe, which is also changing Nassau’s downtown, with the addition of a boardwalk from The Pointe (located next to the British Colonial Hilton) to the cruise port.
Currently under construction and slated to open in phases starting in 2020, The Pointe will include One Particular Harbor at The Pointe, the first residential resort created by entrepreneur and singer Jimmy Buffet, the Seven Entertainment Centre (movie theatre, arcade, karaoke, bowling) and a 150 room Margaritaville resort, which will be managed by Aimbridge Hospitality.
Additional amenities include a 45 slip marina with space for 150 foot yachts, spa, waterpark and seven options for dining including the Landshark Bar & Grill, JWB Prime Steak & Seafood and Margaritaville.
Established properties are also undergoing upgrades, including the popular Atlantis Resort, which has completed a reno of its Coral and Reef towers and will soon be starting renovations on its Royal tower.
Other hotels which have recently been refurbished include The Ocean Club – A Four Seasons Resort, Comfort Suites Paradise Island, Bay View Suites Paradise Island, British Colonial Hilton and Melia Nassau Beach, one of five all-inclusive hotels in Nassau, including Sandals Royal Bahamian, Breezes, Warwick and RIU.
Graycliff Hotel & Restaurant, a 20-room boutique property in downtown Nassau, continues to add to its offerings. Already known for its elegant colonial style, the first five-star restaurant in the Caribbean, handcrafted cigars and chocolate made on site, Graycliff also can brag about having the third largest private wine collection in the world. The hotel now offers Bahama Barrels – Winemaker for a Day, where participants can learn from a California winemaker, taste varietals from around the world and create your own vintage blend.
After being named the Caribbean Travel Awards Destination of the Year for 2018, Minister D’Aguilar and his team have set a new goal to increase foreign visitation to seven million in 2019. With the power of new product and beloved existing properties, it’s looking better in the Bahamas.