The Bahamas has the most diverse tourism economy in the region. We have two mega-hotels, all-inclusives, mid-sized offerings, a vibrant cruise business, boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, and increasingly, Bahamians are renting their homes through online marketplaces such as Airbnb.
Last year was a good year for Bahamian tourism. We welcomed a record-breaking number of visitors.
In 2018, 6.6 million tourists visited, an increase of 7.9 percent compared to 2017. The previous record was set in 2014 when 6.3 million tourists came to the country.
Tourism is our main industry. Its success filters across the country, through all sectors.
In 2018, the stopover segment, those guests who spend 10-plus times more than cruise visitors, grew significantly too. Air arrivals increased by 16.7 percent.
In recent years, however, tourism growth was driven by cruise arrivals. Last year, for example, 4.9 million cruise passengers came to The Bahamas.
There was spirited debate last October when the government considered whether to approve the Disney Cruise Line project in South Eleuthera. There was opposition from environmentalists. There was a competing vision from the local One Eleuthera group.
The government chose Disney.
A segment of our population dislikes the cruise business. You heard it in that debate. You see it on social media related to any cruise development in our country. This is misguided.
It is estimated that cruise passengers spend around $130 per person, while stopover visitors around $1,500. Opponents to the cruise business say we should focus on stopover guests and stop pandering to cruise companies.
Our tourism industry is not an either-or proposition. We need more of all types of tourists. We also need to work on earning more revenue from all types of tourists.
The person who comes on a three-day cruise and spends $200 may not be able to afford the thousands of dollars required for a five-night stay at a major resort. We need offerings to reach every financial and demographic group.
Times are better in The Bahamas as a result of the boom in tourism that began at the end of 2017.
In 2018 and 2019, The Bahamas is projected to have back-to-back years of growth upward of two percent for the first time in a long time.
Tourists are everywhere in New Providence, walking the streets, filling restaurants. Growth in the United States and Canada fuels this success.
All segments of our tourism economy are important. We should welcome the companies and investors that want to help lure visitors to our shores.
The large cruise companies are our partners just like the owners of Atlantis and Baha Mar. Without their business in ports across the country, thousands of Bahamians would be out of work.
We should drop the negative discourse toward the cruise lines. We need them to help grow our economy.