Encouraging tourism numbers

It was welcome news to hear yesterday that The Bahamas saw the arrival of more than seven million visitors in 2022 – a feat achieved only once before.

Tourism has long been the main driver of the country’s economy, despite many who should know better condemning jobs in the lucrative industry as menial labor or, even more ludicrously, slavery.

The industry has helped countless people lift themselves out of poverty and beyond.

The Ministry of Tourism said a total of 7,000,706 people visited The Bahamas in 2022.

In 2019, a record 7.2 million people visited The Bahamas.

The COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the world and shuttered global tourism late in the first quarter of 2020, nosediving tourism arrivals and our economy along with it.

As things started to open up, the crawl back was slow with cruise tourism hit particularly hard for a prolonged period.

The Bahamas had 1.7 million visitors in 2020, with booming numbers in that first quarter giving a misleading sense of how bad 2020 actually was.

We saw 1.9 million visitors in 2021 as the cruise industry came back on stream in a meaningful way in the second half of that year.

Since then, most COVID-19 restrictions, among the most unattractive to visitors being masking, curfews and vaccine passports, have been lifted allowing even more traffic into our islands.

Now, things are back to the high numbers we are used to and Minister of Tourism Chester Cooper said visitor arrivals in the second half of 2022 outperformed those seen in the second half of 2019, indicating another record year could be in the cards for 2023.

“In 2022, 1,470,244 visitors came to our shores by air; another 5,530,462 visitors arrived by sea,” he said.

The Ministry of Tourism said that in December 2022, total arrivals eclipsed 900,000 visitors “more than any month in our history”.

The ministry said air and sea arrivals for 2022 were up 233 percent compared to 2021 and 3.4 percent shy of arrivals in 2019.

Cruise arrivals in 2022 increased by nearly 400 percent.

These numbers are notable in that they indicate several things.

One is that demand is stretching beyond the pent-up desire to travel and there is meaningful reason to believe that brand awareness and increased travel routes instituted under the current minister of tourism are reaping dividends.

Another is that the increase in first-time arrivals from the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East has possibly been as a result of increased missions to eastern regions of the globe and/or the result of increased marketing in those areas.

Those, too, were spearheaded by Cooper.

Another inescapable truth is that the expansion of berths at the Nassau Cruise Port and the redevelopment of the facilities along with deft handling of bookings by port management have contributed to the increase.

The port has had many record days in the last quarter and looks to break even more.

It is contingent, then, that the minister of tourism and the attorney general follow through on promises to revamp downtown Nassau.

The single player in the country that has any shot of compelling complacent property owners to refurbish their premises, organize better offerings and minimize the growing nuisance of peddlers and harassers downtown is the government.

If there is no incentive to come off the ships, the port will not realize its full potential.

We already see the expansion of private island holdings by cruise companies, and now requests for further private ventures that would whisk tourists away from downtown and Bahamian opportunity.

Given the current state of the environs, it will take little convincing from the cruise lines for passengers to remain on the ships.

Royal Caribbean’s Coco Cay is swiftly outdistancing Nassau in popularity.

That we cannot encourage enough local ingenuity to create equally as memorable experiences downtown with all its vastness is discouraging.

The numbers, though, are encouraging and welcome, and the government deserves commendation for its part.

But it cannot rest on its laurels.

There is much, much more work to do to maximize the impact of our tourism sector.

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