TORONTO — When it comes to love, where there’s a will there’s a way and The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation has proven just that with its first-ever virtual expo.
The two-day ‘From The Bahamas With Love’ event kicked off yesterday, March 3, with over 1,000 travel agents tuning in for an afternoon of breakout sessions that further solidified The Bahamas’ reputation for being a leading romance and wedding destination. The event’s second day, set for March 10, will be open to consumers including future brides and grooms.
Though the global pandemic has forced the Ministry to go virtual with this year’s expo, the decision to go ahead with the event reflects the destination’s ability to adapt to current times, says the Hon. Dionisio D’Aguilar, Minister of Tourism & Aviation for The Bahamas.
“Change is inevitable, life dictates it, therefore we must anticipate it and position ourselves to embrace it,” he says in his opening address. “In adapting to the new regime brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Bahamas Ministry for Tourism & Aviation quickly took action and made the necessary adjustments and re-strategized to ensure a smooth and seamless transition from the old to the new.”
Health and safety protocols that have been put in place since The Bahamas fully reopened to tourists last October include negative PCR testing prior to arrival on the island, a mandatory Bahamas Travel Health Visa that includes COVID Health Insurance, and a rapid COVID-19 antigen test if staying in The Bahamas longer than four nights. Plus, Bahamian hotels must now adhere to the island’s new ‘Clean & Pristine’ Certification Program and verify at check-in that all guests have a negative PCR or antigen test and agree to comply with physical distancing measures and face mask requirements.
When asked whether romantic escapes are still possible with all these safety protocols in place, Ellison ‘Tommy’ Thompson, Deputy Director General, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation tells Travelweek that they absolutely are.
“Masks are only required when in larger social situations, like going through the airport for example. If a couple is strolling hand in hand down the beach, masks aren’t necessary,” he says. “The romance and wedding sector is a very important component to The Bahamas. Our many islands and cays make it an ideal destination for a romantic vacation, destination wedding or honeymoon.”
With the rollout of global vaccines, Thompson adds that the Ministry of Tourism is feeling optimistic about the future. Prior to the pandemic, The Bahamas was seeing strong arrivals from all markets, including Canada; the destination finished the year with a respectable 44,000 Canadian visitors, despite temporarily closing its borders and Canada’s stringent travel restrictions.
“Once travel picks up again, we believe that The Bahamas is perfectly situated to welcome back visitors to our shores who are seeking a warm-weather destination that’s not too far from home,” says Thompson. “We are definitely open for tourists and look forward to welcoming Canadians back The Islands of the Bahamas when Canadians are able to travel again.”
Here are some key insights from yesterday’s panel session titled “A New Take On Romantic Travel,” hosted by Alan Berg of Wedding Business Solutions and featuring Lisa Sheldon, Co-Founder of Destination Weddings & Honeymoons Specialists Association (DWHSA), David Woods, President and Founder of Association of Bridal Consultants, and Danielle Andrews, Co-Founder and President or Wedding Planners Institute of Canada:
When asked how she anticipates the romance and weddings market to change as a result of the pandemic, Andrews said she’s seeing more and more couples who were previously considering homebound weddings now opting for a destination wedding instead.
“It used to be among millennials, we’d have 35% of them doing destination weddings. That number’s way higher now because couples want to spend that time with family and friends now, and so we’re seeing more people shift to destination weddings,” she said.
Andrews also noted that wedding couples are staying longer in destination, from 3-4 days to 7-10 days, “because it’s such a big deal to travel right now and they’re going to make it worth their while.”
One other notable outcome of the pandemic is the fact that many hotels and resorts aren’t as heavily staffed now as they adhere to strict safety and distancing protocols. But the upside to this, said Andrews, is more personalization for individual weddings since properties are no longer able to accommodate multiple ceremonies at once.
GET ON SOCIAL
All speakers were in agreement: it’s imperative for wedding planners and destination wedding specialists to be active on social media, now more than ever. Said Andrews: “People just aren’t utilizing social media enough but that’s where the wedding couples are and they are utilizing it.”
Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest are not only useful for sharing relevant information about destinations, resorts and wedding processes, but they also give planners the opportunity to share their own personalities with clients.
“Couples really want to connect with you, they want to see you and are really checking you out. They want to see that the process is going to be fun and are looking for people who give them good vibes and have all the knowledge that they need during this time because it’s more stressful than it’s ever been to plan a wedding in another country,” said Andrews.
DWHSA’s Sheldon shared how during a trip to Costa Rica in November, she made sure to share the experience of going through airport security, checking into a resort, getting her temperature taken and dining at local restaurants on her social media.
“It’s so important to let our clients know that it is okay to travel and that there are destinations that are very proactive,” said Sheldon, adding that she felt more comfortable at her resort in Costa Rica than she does at a local store in her hometown. “They need to know we’re still there for them when they are ready to travel.”
When describing how the role of a wedding planner has changed from pre-pandemic to now, Woods stressed the importance of education.
“It used to be just grab your swimsuit and sunscreen but now it’s grab your swimsuit, sunscreen and a hard copy of your clean COVID test,” he said. “What a planner can do is start as early as they can and educate the client. Make sure you also get your professional credentials and keep learning and earning. It’s a little bit of a different environment but it’s still fabulous.”
Sheldon added that due to travel restrictions and requirements changing almost daily from one destination to another, planners need to do everything they can to stay up to date with all relevant information by reading news briefs from the travel trade and attending virtual conferences as often as they can. “The last thing you want to do is provide wrong information or no information at all to clients,” she said.
For the most up-to-date information on travel to The Bahamas go to https://www.bahamas.com/tourism-reopening.