|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 1, 2006
January 1, 2006
Liz Filler and Stephen Lay
Tourism has nowhere to go but up. That’s the way The Bahamas Minister of Tourism Obie Wilchcombe sees it, and he’s delighted with the industry’s growth on his watch.
“This year, in particular, I think we will finally arrive at the moment when we declare that we have year-round tourism,” says Wilchcombe. After all, in 2004, The Bahamas boasted a record five-million visitors.
“The problem we have now is that we simply don’t have enough room,” Wilchcombe says. There is more airlift capacity than room availability.
Airlines, including discount carriers Spirit and Jet Blue, have been joined by new carriers entering the market. Brazilian tourism officials have approached the Ministry of Tourism to establish direct flight connections between the two countries. Additionally, with the arrival of Virgin Atlantic in the archipelago, the opportunity for flights from China, connecting through London, will create a new market. Chinese tourists, businessmen, and entrepreneurs are expected to visit for two weeks or longer on average.
Hotel and resort construction is booming in Nassau, Grand Bahama and the Out Islands. Responding to the real estate boom, investors are building new properties and renovating older ones. Timeshare ownership continues to grow and second home construction and sales are on the rise, adding revenue to local economies. Tourism in The Bahamas started with second homes. “It worked then, and it’s working now,” adds Wilchcombe.
As a tourist-oriented financial, business and banking centre, the entire economy benefits from tourism, including conferences, conventions and group tours. The market is good but it is no time to relax strategy or standards. Since tourism accounts for approximately 50 per cent of GDP, the tourist sector is the nations’s largest employer followed by finance, banking, construction and retail.
The collective goal is keeping visitors happy, whether they are tourists, convention participants, businesspeople, investors or cruise ship passengers. The quality of service and upgraded, expanded and well-maintained facilities are vital, suggests Wilchcombe.
“Bahamians have to buy into the important role they play in helping to build our economy,” says Wilchcombe. Consumer service programmes have been in place for decades and will continue to be improved. Part of the goal is to keep the competition at bay. As Minister Wilchcombe puts it: “I don’t worry about competition. I want the competition to worry about us!”
Times are flush in The Bahamas tourism industry today. The future will be even brighter, Wilchcombe believes, but only if the country continues to build on its successes, adapt to changing markets and provide optimum service to its consumers.