Airlines are already indicating – particularly for the months of July and August – an uptick in demand as people book flights for travel to The Bahamas, leading Tourism Director General Joy Jibrilu to be “cautiously optimistic” that the country will see a rebound in tourism sooner rather than later.
Jibrilu said recent data from a poll of the country’s primary source market, North America, indicates that 75 to 83 percent of respondents are ready to travel again.
“The interest in our destination has been actually very, very surprising. It’s taken us all by surprise. I think the overriding view was that no one would be interested in travel, post-COVID-19 or while COVID-19 was still present. Research data is indicating that that’s not actually the case. There’s a pent up desire for so many people. They want to, to use a local term, just bust loose. They want to get out of quarantine isolation and they’re looking forward to their first trip,” she said in an interview with Guardian Business yesterday.
“You know the majority of our visitors, 90 percent more or less, come from North America and primarily the United States of America. They’re our number one source market. What is interesting in the United States is that in the most recent surveys that we’ve seen, between a 75 to 83 percent of respondents are saying they are ready for their first trip.”
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced on Sunday that the government is considering the possible reopening of the borders for commercial flights on or around July 1.
Jibrilu said tourism officials are shocked by the high demand for travel so soon, but are cautiously optimistic by what they are seeing.
“Airlines are indicating, particularly for July and August especially, the uptick in demand, people booking. It’s taken us a little by surprise, so I use that term cautious optimism that we will see a rebound. Of course it’s going to be slow, it’s not going to be a quick one, but we’re seeing one,” she said.
“I want to emphasize that what we in the business see as our niche market that is yachting, boating, aviation, there is a huge demand for those. That is shocking. It goes against what everyone is saying.”
Jibrilu reiterated that The Bahamas will benefit exceedingly because of its closeness to the United States.
“I’d love to say that it’s because I’ve done a great job, but it’s proximity, ease of getting here, people feel they can get out quickly. I think the multiplicity of islands, people want a beach vacation and they want to go somewhere that’s not overcrowded. The Bahamas lends itself to that. Thank God for all our islands and the beauty of them. You can go on a beach and self-isolate,” she said.
This is of particular benefit, since those polled expressed interest in their first trips being domestic. The catch, however, is that The Bahamas is considered a domestic travel choice in the poll.
“They are looking for a domestic trip and this is what is unusual and something that I would ordinarily rile up strongly against. They are considering Canada, Bermuda and The Bahamas domestic destinations. And ordinarily I would say ‘no we’re not, we’re international’ but we’re going to accept it in this instance,” Jibrilu said.
“And so they feel comforted by our proximity, ease of getting here, the perception of our low number of cases, obviously a low death toll and the handling of the coronavirus put us in a good position to capitalize on the reopening of the tourism sector. In terms of demand – and know that there is interest for July 1 – we are seeing that and we have what it takes that we can open up and be ready to accept visitors.
“Our biggest concern obviously would be health and safety factors first and foremost for Bahamians, where people in The Bahamas working in the industry and where they are healthy and they remain that way, that there is no reintroduction of COVID-19, were our borders to be reopened. Secondly, with our visitors coming to the destination, that they are safe and that they will not be introducing anything into the destination and conversely that they won’t pick up anything when they get here. So that’s the two-pronged approach that we’ve been working on.”
The Bahamas recorded a record number of foreign arrivals last year, upwards of 7 million visitors.
Tourism-dependent countries like The Bahamas are expected to be hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in significantly reduced global travel because of border closures around the world.