The Bahamas risks compromising its growth and survival if it remains New Providence-centric in its tourism and economic offerings, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said Tuesday night during his welcoming remarks at the opening ceremony of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s (CHTA) Caribbean Travel Marketplace.
Minnis, who spoke to an overflowing crowd of Caribbean delegates and business people under an enormous tent on Baha Mar’s Jasmine lawn, explained that if New Providence is ever faced with a Hurricane Dorian-sized storm, it could “undermine our potential for growth”.
“We must innovate in order to grow and to survive,” Minnis said.
“Resilience means spreading tourism more broadly throughout the islands and cays of our extensive archipelago. Fortunately, The Bahamas and the people in this room have a long-established global reputation for leadership in tourism. We must now take up the mantle of leading this rethinking of tourism to our benefit and for the benefit of our children and future generations of Bahamians.
“God has blessed The Bahamas with many islands and cays and therefore many more opportunities to diversify our tourism centers. This is why my government is seeking to develop a broad range of tourism experiences throughout the many islands and cays of The Bahamas, including sustainable boutique hotels, a range of cruising, yachting and boating experiences and in other areas such as wellness tourism. The Bahamas is an archipelago of possibilities.”
He added that while business people are focused on distributing the tourism economy “more broadly” across The Bahamas, they also need to focus the distribution of those benefits across New Providence communities.
Minnis described tourism as a “non-depleting asset”, explaining that if it is managed correctly, it will continue on. He contrasted tourism with barrels of oil, which, “whenever a barrel of oil is sold, there is one barrel less to sell”. The Bahamas could go into oil exploration in the next few months if government allows Bahamas Petroleum Company to move ahead with its exploratory well in March.
However, according to Minnis, Bahamians must continually redevelop its tourism product, which continues to be the lifeblood of the country.
“Done right, our visitors take away with them pleasant memories that they then share with their friends and relatives, which only adds to the asset value of the Caribbean,” he said.
“Furthermore, as indicated by the number of net new jobs delivered to global tourism over the last decade, tourism employs and therefore absorbs the broadest possible range of skills in any population. But as we seek to deliver quality tourism throughout both The Bahamas and Caribbean archipelagos, we must constantly hone the management and other skills required for 21st century tourism in order to advance the global reputation of the region.
“Here at home, we must also rethink the role that our tertiary institution, the University of The Bahamas, will play in delivering the skills and the path that it needs to take in becoming a regional and world leader in hospitality management and training in a country that is so tourism dependent. We must also find ways to broaden the distribution of tourism benefits and income more broadly across our communities and in particular across New Providence.”
Minnis touted the growth of the Airbnb model in The Bahamas: “I am happy to see significant growth in the peer-to-peer sector with such companies as Airbnb and with many of our citizens finding themselves directly in the accommodations business for the very first time. In many ways, the Airbnbs of the world are a commercial form of people-to-people, where our visitors have a direct one-on-one relationship with the people of The Bahamas.”
According to the prime minister, the experiences from peer-to-peer businesses like Airbnb reveals the appetite for authentic Bahamian experiences.
Minnis contended that Bahamian entrepreneurs have to develop more tours in order to satisfy visitors who may come to The Bahamas many times, seeking a new adventure each time.
“I understand, for example, that a fairly high proportion of the cruise passengers coming into the Port of Nassau have been here before, so if we still have only the same tours that were available for their last visit, we should not be surprised that their spending is reduced,” he said.
“Up to now, many of our tours have been offered primarily to our cruise passengers, who are often here for less than one day. There is considerable potential to offer more tours for land-based visitors who stay in The Bahamas for longer periods annually, but who today, purchase relatively few tours.”