Front Porch | Myths and misunderstandings of the tourism sector
There is a plethora of myths and convoluted contradictions about tourism in The Bahamas, which typically lead to anemic analysis of the possibilities and dimensions of our leading economic sector, much of which remains untapped.
There are some whose minds and economic models are trapped in yesteryear, unaware and uninformed of our evolving tourism sector, including cruise ship tourism, especially short cruises from the United States, for which the Bahamas is an ideal destination.
A perennial illogical fallacy is the either/or mentality: Stopover tourists versus cruise ship passengers; large resorts versus boutique hotels; hotels versus Airbnb-like accommodations; all-inclusive versus other types of hotel experiences and a succession of other false dichotomies.
Our task as a country is to realize the best and dynamic mix of tourism services, products, facilities and experiences. We should vigorously eschew breezy and unsubstantiated dichotomies based on speculative reasoning.
A relatively new mantra, perpetuated by a columnist in another journal last week is that the Hubert Minnis administration is attracting so much cruise business to Grand Bahama that it will dilute the business from Nassau. Here we go again.
Recall, that according to some, the FNM was not attracting sufficient new tourism business to the country. Now apparently too much business is being attracted.
We are in significant ways a mature tourism destination. We possess myriad geographical advantages including: spectacular waters and beaches; a far-flung archipelago with numerous islands and cays; and proximity to the United States including the Florida market, which means that flying and sailing time to the country is quicker and less expensive than most Caribbean destinations.
In a speech to the Bahamas Hotel Tourism Association last December, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis outlined other advantages The Bahamas enjoys.
“According to a MasterCard study, warm weather vacations is the most desired type of vacation in the world.
“According to multiple studies, the most desired foreign vacation for the people of the United States is a vacation in The Bahamas or the Caribbean.”
He continued: “The most powerful force for leisure travel is proximity, which is one of the major reasons we must reduce airline travel costs to The Bahamas, especially from markets such as Florida.
“The Bahamas archipelago has the world’s most brilliantly delightful weather. We have the world’s most beautiful beaches. We enjoy the world’s clearest ocean waters, which have repeatedly been described in glowing terms by astronauts.
“And we are located right next door to the North American economy, the largest economy on Earth.”
We are advised by some that by investing in both Nassau and Grand Bahama, the cruise lines will control the cruise business to The Bahamas.
Previously, the criticism from some quarters was that because the cruise lines did not invest on land, they could sail away at will. Now, when they are making land-based investments – they have too much control.
Those who mindlessly note that if the cruise lines invest in Grand Bahama that they will have little incentive to bring their ships to Nassau are either being purposely disingenuous or are blithely unaware of their own glaring contradiction or some odd combination of both.
The reality is that cruise lines are busily attempting to invest in both ports, which means that they understand the potential of both ports, and will have the same incentive to serve both.
The cruise lines have adopted a both/and strategy, bullish in the belief that there is more than enough business for both Nassau and Freeport.
Their main concern is not a lack of business. A major concern is the need for better facilities and more services, amenities and experiences for their passengers once they arrive onshore in The Bahamas.
A columnist who sounded the alarm as to whether there will be sufficient cruise business for Nassau went on to note that the cruise lines are adjusting to more demand and adding more ships. Perhaps all is not lost as some have conjured.
It is curious how some first arrive at their editorial lines and conclusions then attempt to organize the facts around their foregone conclusions, but often end up contradicting and upending their biased conclusions because of the internal contradictions in their arguments.
Speaking in Grand Bahama yesterday the prime minister addressed the simplistic either/or mentality of those who do not possess a fuller understanding of the evolving economics of contemporary tourism.
Minnis noted: “There is so much room for growth in tourism in general, including cruise ship tourism, that both Freeport and Nassau will greatly benefit from new ports. Both cities will also benefit from related facilities, amenities and experiences which help to boost revenue from cruise ship passengers.
“The cruise lines and international investors recognize the great potential for both New Providence and Grand Bahama, which is why many companies are willing to invest in The Bahamas in tourism, technology and other sectors.”
He continued: “New port facilities will mean more jobs and business opportunities for New Providence and Grand Bahama during the construction phases and afterwards.
“The Bahamas, and the ports of Nassau and Freeport in particular, are prime locations to visit for many millions of cruise passengers, who can sail to The Bahamas quickly because of our location to Florida and the United States.”
A former tourism minister described the nature and benefits of short term cruises to The Bahamas. He noted that a short cruise to The Bahamas opens up cruising to a broader demographic, and that it is highly likely that many of those on Bahamas-only cruises can access The Bahamas for a vacation only because the cruise ship exists.
There used to be a persistent, though now diminishing, belief among hoteliers that if the cruise ships did not exist, the cruise passengers would have chosen their hotels. The former minister insists that tourism demographics suggest the folly of that belief.
He advises that there is a good chance that various cruise ship packages bring revenue to the government of The Bahamas and tourist spending that would disappear with any reduction in certain cruise traffic.
Unlike many other destinations where many tourism-related vendors and service providers switch between serving cruise passengers and stopover visitors, there is a subsector of tourism providers in The Bahamas who may rely nearly entirely on cruise passengers, including certain shops, taxi and tour drivers and others.
A recent report in this journal described another aspect of cruising that has potential for the country.
The story noted: “A yacht chartering company based in the British Virgin Islands has expanded its operations to The Bahamas, offering power catamaran charter services in partnership with the Abaco Beach Resort.
“MarineMax Vacations is offering a fleet of 36-foot, 44-foot and 48-foot power catamarans, based out of Boat Harbour Marina.”
The story continued: “MarineMax Vacations was formed in 2012 with an initial fleet of 13 sailboats in the British Virgin Islands, and has been voted the number one charter company in the British Virgin Islands…
“At the new base in Abaco Beach Resort, guests can expect the same great service and quality that they have come to know and love about MarineMax Vacations while having the ability to explore 120 miles of islands in The Bahamas…”
If the incumbent administration is able to boost revenue, jobs and business opportunities from multiple tourism sources, including new cruise ports on Freeport and Nassau, it will help the Free National Movement to make a case for re-election, though an improved economy alone will not secure a second term.