Expanding tourism for The Bahamas: long-range, nonstop flights

 Dear Editor,

As we all know, The Bahamas has remained one of the top ranked tourist destinations in the world for more than 20 years, and tourism will continue to grow for more years down the road.

One of the reasons why is because of our successful marketing to the American middle-class families, vacationing college students and couples who want a reasonably priced destination that offers high-grade tourism experiences. Hundreds of thousands of Americans visit the country every few months or so on casual vacations or business trips and we’ve been the place for it for years.

But as we all know, there are still some things that we need to improve on our product. Bay Street, Freeport and other islands need more attention to detail as it comes to smaller resorts and hotels, need more tourist-to-local interaction and a cleaner and a safer environment.

One of the aspects of expanding tourism and opening up more travel options is to further build LPIA and build a new airport in Freeport. The main objective is to allow non-stop, long-range flights and open up new tourist demographics and marketing opportunities.

We already know that people from around the world want to take a vacation here – British, Australians, French, Germans, Norwegians, Mexicans, Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, Swedish, Peruvians, Thai citizens, Japanese and even Saudi Arabia’s royal citizens and UAE citizens, which are of the richest citizens in the world. Just to name a few.

Many of them would wish to visit here one day, just as many Bahamians want to visit those countries one day as well. The problem? The annoying layover stops and the prices.

The last few times I checked Expedia to look up on traveling to South Korea. The first thing I found was the prices of the hotels and vacation homes tend to be higher than Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando and Toronto. It’s the local economies that are different than the U.S. and Canada and it’s further than where we travel to most places. So that isn’t really a thing to worry about.

The other issue what I brought up about long-range flights is layover stops and how long it takes to wait for the flight. Most flights go two stops to Seoul, only Delta stops at Atlanta or New York, then jumps all the way to South Korea. Then the layovers last for two to 11 hours, which can be mind-numbing, dull waiting times. It’s different when it’s just one stop to wait, but having two stops taking hours upon hours between flights totals around 24 to 32 hours in flight time to your actual destination. The only non-stop long haul flight we have is British Airways, flying from London to Nassau.

Total price to stay there for at least just one person? Around $3,400 to almost $4,000, depending on what luxury upgrades you want on your trip. But seriously, combined excessive wait times with prices with no generous discounts make these trips a hassle. So here’s the idea if we decide to expand our airport to house even more arrivals and to open up more destination opportunities.

First, building and facilitating international departures and arrivals.

The best thing to do here is to expand LPIA’s long-range capabilities, creating new non-stop routes. Recently, NAD demolished the old terminal on the side of the new terminal. However, instead of limiting ourselves with another domestic terminal, they should build the new terminal that takes long range flights, cutting down on lengthy layover stops for Bahamians and tourists alike. Those airlines use B777s to the colossal A380, just for technical perspective. The planes can fly for thousands of miles, sometimes almost across the planet. It would be perfect to utilize those planes to use for one direct flight straight to your destination on another continent.

In fact, we should build two new terminals, with the other one spanning across the second runway we have. The first terminal we currently have can be dedicated to domestic flights to the Family Islands and to the nearest U.S. cities, whilst the other two terminals would serve for long-range, non-stop routes.

To do that, NAD can renovate and increase the length of the second runway to 11,400 feet, which is more than enough for large aircraft to land effectively. It could also cause the southern road to the airport to have two entrances and a new tunnel to the main terminal. We can also build a transit system in place to maneuver to different areas. Hangars and fueling stations should be a priority if this plan were to work successfully. The only place to build them is near the main ATC tower.

Even then, it still wouldn’t be enough to service around eight to 11.3 million new tourist arrivals without having LPIA being over the capacity limits. Freeport has more than enough space for a larger airport with more facilities, while rebuilding the city’s tourist attractions and expanding outside of Freeport for more tourist-to-local attraction. LPIA will hold about seven million arrivals, while the new Freeport airport can have nine million arrivals.

The interior of these large airports should house all the basic needs, all while having its fancy designs unique to other large terminal complexes, and with some galleries holding Bahamian and Lucayan culture and artifacts from the past. Business and first-class travelers always need a luxury lounge to cool off from the stress before a flight. Then there’s the aforementioned transit system that should aid in carrying travelers to and fro. Placing a hotel as a stop before travelers can move to their destination.

Second, having benefits for airlines, the airport and travelers.

The second thing to do is to make long flights more affordable for Bahamians and for others to fly easier. Non-stop flights is just a first step. The next step is to put up something akin to fast food deals, but for travelers.

We can have a seasonal discount for destinations. Around 15 percent to 40 percent discounts on tickets, hotels and other luxury upgrades for people traveling to destinations 1,000 up to 7,000 miles away. At 40 percent to 30 percent is for destinations around New York, Chicago, Toronto, Quebec and Montreal at the 1,000-mile range. European and South American destinations would be at 25 percent at Britain, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece and Northern Europe. 20 percent to 15 percent would be Dubai, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Indonesia and India.

However, there are only so many deals we can make with destinations, so we have to go with spring, summer, autumn and winter deals with the places that suit the season.

The discount doesn’t just apply to flights, it can apply to hotels and luxury upgrades such as upscale hotel rooms and vacation homes, and business first-class seating and lounges, and rental cars, shuttles and VIP hot spots and benefits, all included within the discounts and exclusive benefits system. We can create a flight club that allows Bahamians to be club members with the entry fee of $400, paying $75 to $150 each six months and easily renewable, and also allied with other international airline companies and with Star Alliance. All of the benefits listed above will be included. I’ll name this one The Cloud-37 Flight Club.

For example, if I were planning to find an international destination in the winter to see snow, and I had the club membership, the club would show me the discounted destinations in Zurich, Stockholm, Oslo, Seoul and Alaska with ski resorts and winter-themed tourist attractions. If I wanted to see the autumn, there would be Canada and Northern U.S. states. Around spring break, I’ll get Ibiza, Rio de Janeiro and Cancun with the hottest party spots in town. Summer would be most regional and international destinations; bundled together with the flight ticket with options to upgrade to business and first class with associated airlines, lounges, discounted hotels and high-end vacation homes, options to use limousines, shuttles and luxury rental cars and discounted tourist attractions and VIP hotspots in your destination; all to choose and buy if you wish.

For Bahamians and foreign travelers alike, this would make it easier to travel further without all of those layover stops and menacing prices.

The last thing is to improve the tourist product and working attitude here in order for this to work. Hotels need to work four times as hard to maintain this standard and for the long-term investment to fully work. Restaurants need no excuses for failures. Airport personnel must be working at the maximum capability to effectively keep the airport functional. And tourist attractions must be made safer and reliable. With the bigger number of arrivals and how the new flight club will include local benefits to the resorts, we must be ready to handle the heavier load on tourist arrivals.

The money to make this? About $700 million or even $1.5 billion. I’m not a financial person, but that’s the best guess I can think of when it comes to projects like these. But if we can put our minds to it, it can work.

– Ammaka Russell

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