Out Island operators expanding on marina potential
Opportunities abound to improve on the economic impact from pleasure boat visitors to The Bahamas, the third largest way that tourists access these Islands, which accounted for 71,000 stopovers in 2009.
It is an aspect of the tourism industry in which the Out Islands and Grand Bahama take the lion’s share of the stopover visit numbers, according to statistics on www.tourismtoday.com, which show about 92 percent of 2009’s yacht and private boat stopover visitors went to those destinations, and the balance to the Nassau market. Stephen Kappeler, chairman of the Out Islands Promotion Board and general manager of Cape Eleuthera Resort and Marina, the largest of the Out Island marinas, told Guardian Business last week that the number of slips in The Bahamas has grown to about 3000, though statistics on the number of pleasure craft in the US highlight the still unharnessed potential of that market.
“They mention 70 to 80,000 boats in the United States, and we’ve grown in the last 10 years from a thousand to 1,500 slips to 3000 slips,” Kappeler said. “What that tells us is how great the opportunity is because there are 100,000 boats over there and we only have 3,000 slips to fill.”
“But we have a lot of filling to do. So it tells us how much work we have left ahead to collaborate and work together with the Ministry of Tourism.”
The islands of The Bahamas have the obvious proximity advantage to many competitors for the North American, East Coast pleasure cruiser. But Kappeler said the Out Islands specifically had the greatest opportunities for growth. There are perhaps more slips in the Out Islands, Kappeler said, and they are generally considered very safe for cruising, with friendly residents and an unbeatable environment for cruisers to take in.
“We talk about the environment and recognize the environment is our greatest strength and point of difference from all the other Caribbean boating nations in terms of what we have to offer,” Kappeler said. “Once they’ve experienced it we own them… we’ve got them.
“It’s getting them… and now the goal is, let’s not keep them for three nights or four nights, let’s keep them for five or ten.”
The Marine Operators of The Bahamas (MOB) is collaborating with the Ministry of Tourism toward that end, Kappeler said. Basic marketing initiatives are being implemented, including the re-engineering of the Bahamas.com website to include a platform for the MOB. It is a potentially powerful tie-in, with Bahamas.com having the most hits of any of the Caribbean’s promotion websites, Kappeler said.
The Cape Eleuthera general manager said his direct experience with tourist boaters has highlighted the need to address a common ‘gripe’ of theirs on the cruise permit issue.
“They feel they are being taxed to spend their money here,” Kappeler said. “They spend a lot of money. Per head they spend more money than a visiting guest would on a hotel stay. That’s a small thing, but that’s something they will tell you.”
Kappeler explained that current cruise permits are only good for two entries into The Bahamas, but with many boats coming in from nearby locations, often making frequent trips here, the complaint is fairly common. He estimated the problem would be a simple one to fix.
Kappeler said opportunities are also being missed by the lack of maps and charts that link the islands together. If they were in place, boaters visiting Freeport or Abaco for example may find themselves exploring many of the other, more remote island offerings in The Bahamas.