In recent times, tourism has taken a beating in our culture. The pandemic exposed The Bahamas’ dependence on tourism in a big way. We were basically held hostage for months with no viable economic alternative other than to borrow and hope for a tourism rebound. We know that we need economic diversification – but if there was a simple road to get there, we would have already been there. The truth is we are inextricably tied to tourism no matter what alternative we come up with and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Tourism is one of the best economic models that exist. Have a beautiful location, build a building, and people come and spend money. No planting, arduous labor, just smile and say hello and the cash register keeps ringing. The only thing more exciting than this is passive income and commerce. We absolutely need to diversify, but we need to understand what is already within our grasp, and the massive opportunities that still exist. Tourism has not reached its limit in The Bahamas, and we need to appreciate what we have and the evolving opportunities that exist.
Even though we are still in the midst of a pandemic, we have been seeing tourists return to The Bahamas, as expected. The Bahamas is still beautiful and hopefully the people are still friendly and that is a marriage made in heaven. I say thank God for tourism, nothing else we have will get our lives to return to normal. I almost feel like we should have a tourism appreciation day. While we continue to pursue other avenues and opportunities, we have not even come close to maximizing the tourism product and fully integrating it into our economic infrastructure.
As we relaunch tourism, we must recognize the opportunities that exist and take advantage of them or allow others to beat us to the deal. What is now emerging are opportunities for ordinary Bahamians to get an ownership stake in the tourism product. Products such as Airbnb have placed power in the hands of Bahamians that was not available even just a few years ago. Bahamians, especially in the Family Islands, have an opportunity to become entrepreneurs and investors. Many of us have generational property on the beaches, and foreigners have already beaten us to the deal by buying up Bahamian real estate, building homes and renting them via Airbnb, and making a massive profit. Some Bahamians have gotten in the game, but many are still unaware or uninterested in the opportunity.
There are opportunities in New Providence as well, but most of these opportunities are out of reach for the middle and lower class, although I have heard of some creative Bahamians who have managed to secure their piece of the pie. I was speaking to an American former diplomat and executive and heard one of the funniest stories ever about local ingenuity. She wanted to visit The Bahamas for the first time and did not understand the lay of the land, so she booked an Airbnb within walking distance of the beach. It turned out the place was in Fox Hill and there was no beach to walk to. She indicated that the jitney driver said he couldn’t drop her off at the bus stop in Fox Hill and he insisted on driving her to her doorstep every day because Fox Hill can be rough for natives, let alone a female stranger from another country. We both had a laugh, and she said the place was actually nice and she had a good experience even though she was deceived by the owner about the beach access.
This is an extreme example, but the opportunities are there, and the economic dynamics have changed allowing for us to access ownership opportunities that were not available before. There are many other exciting possibilities in tourism that we should be excited about. The home porting of cruise ships offers hope if it works out long term. In the short term, we are already benefitting from it. Taxi drivers, tour operators and others I have spoken to are certainly excited. The Family Islands appear to be where there are unlimited possibilities. I have spoken to Family Islanders in places like Acklins and Crooked Island who have stated that during the pandemic, remote islands such as theirs saw boaters and private jet setters flock there to get away and have total privacy.
Yes, we need to diversify. We need to have supplementary economic generators – but let us never forget the value of tourism, which built The Bahamas into what it is today. Let’s not bad mouth something that has sustained us and caused The Bahamas to be the envy of the region. Appreciate tourism and expand on it with new ideas for ownership in the tourism-based economy.
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.