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Record-breaking tourism in The Bahamas
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Record-breaking tourism in The Bahamas

Visitor numbers are soaring, and with a brand new campaign touring the globe, signs are good for the future

The Bahamas Investor Magazine
September 1, 2019
September 15, 2019
Jessica Robertson

The Bahamas has been experiencing phenomenal growth in tourism over the last couple of years. There are a number of factors that have driven the boom, from concerted marketing efforts by the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation to economic upticks in major markets such as the US. But with an increasingly competitive holiday destination market, The Bahamas needs to be bold and innovative to maintain market share.

And it’s a market share worth fighting to hold on to. Last year was record-breaking for cruise ship and stopover arrivals to The Bahamas. By the end of 2018, foreign air and sea arrivals totalled more than 6.6 million visitors, a drastic increase from the 6.1 million recorded in 2017. Stopover visitors alone had increased 16.7 per cent in 2018, as compared to 2017, and Freeport saw a surge of sea visitors by 49 per cent.

This, of course, helps drive the economy. The Nassau and Paradise Island hotel industry reported a year-on-year spike in average daily room rates and revenue per available room in 2018. The year ended with room revenues up 34 per cent, gains not seen in the past 10 years.

“As a nation, we have been seriously engaged in the tourism business for about six decades,” said Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar at a press conference announcing the figures early this year. “The increase in our tourism business in 2018 was experienced nationwide, in Nassau and Paradise Island, in Grand Bahama and in our major Family
Islands. This is welcome, heartwarming news at a time when we are endeavouring to drive our nation’s economy.”

However, this is no time to rest on one’s laurels. “The growth in tourism in The Bahamas surpasses the global growth,” tourism director general Joy Jibrilu points out. “It surpasses the Caribbean growth. But I said to the Minister, it’s unlikely we can sustain this level of growth.” The ministry must work hard to remain competitive

A new campaign
This goal was on their minds when representatives of the tourism ministry and their new creative agency partners, Fort Lauderdale-based Tambourine, thought about how best to position The Bahamas going into 2019 to stand out in an increasingly competitive market. When brainstorming a marketing strategy, several words came to mind that encapsulated The Bahamas: cool, chic, laidback and sexy.

The marketing professionals advised that whenever people think of a special place or occasion they link it in their minds to a song. The team was able to easily identify a song for other destinations, but it seemed The Bahamas lacked a signature soundtrack.

They brainstormed some more and came up with what they felt was the ideal tune. It was edgy. It was catchy. It was award-winning. And it was written and performed by a cool, chic, laidback and sexy superstar with Bahamian roots. But they had little hope that Lenny Kravitz would go for their idea.

Match made in heaven
It had been almost seven years since the last Bahamas brand campaign and they had to go big. So the group figured they had nothing to lose by asking. The problem was, no one knew how to reach Kravitz. No one, that is, except Jibrilu.

“I had the distinct honour and privilege of calling Lenny,” she says, recalling that she proceeded to share the campaign concept with him and then said: “It involves you and it involves a song…”

Kravitz has been very careful during his 30-year career about doing anything commercial and he was quick to tell her so. Jibrilu recalls thinking that it was a long shot anyway and was preparing to hang-up when he paused and said: “Well, it depends. What song do you want to use?”

The song they had their hearts set on was his Grammy Award-winning 1998 hit “Fly Away.” It turns out they couldn’t have made a better choice. Kravitz then proceeded to share the story behind how he wrote the song. He had just about wrapped up recording and producing his latest album at Compass Point Studios in The Bahamas and after dropping his daughter Zoe off at school one morning, he was so taken by the beauty of the water along West Bay Street that he pulled over and “Fly Away” just came to him.

He finished writing it and headed back to the studio to tell them to hold the album because he had another song. “He told me that the fact that it was inspired by the beauty of The Bahamas and he recorded it in The Bahamas meant that he couldn’t say no.”

Bahamian storytelling
They kept the partnership with Kravitz a closely guarded secret for a year, while the first part of the campaign was doing the rounds. The same beautiful water that inspired the song features heavily in the campaign. “We kept asking people why they would come to The Bahamas,” Jibrilu says. “Unanimously, it was the water. We realized that the very thing that makes us what we are, we were not capitalizing on.”

The first part of the campaign highlights the 16 populated islands of the archipelago, and showcases average Bahamians telling their own stories about their lives and where they live. It started to capture a lot of attention. The interest in those personal stories got a million and a half views in the first few months. People were writing to us and telling us they want to
visit those places,” says Jibrilu.

Finding a way to get the world to know the different islands by name was a critical part of the overall long-term strategy. Not only does it benefit the smaller islands and industry partners, but it keeps The Bahamas from simply being a tick on a bucket-list. Today’s travellers get bored easily and Jibrilu says that by showcasing the individual islands and getting people excited about the prospect of visiting somewhere new and doing something different, the country avoids the “been there, done that” syndrome that could eventually stagnate future growth.

A new budget in the upcoming fiscal year will allow the Ministry of Tourism to promote the next group of islands and they plan to keep going, knowing they will never run out of authentic stories to tell or unique Bahamians to tell them.

Global relationships
Unlike past campaigns that did well in some markets but weren’t embraced by others, this latest campaign is being well received around the world. The television ad and vertical campaign material featuring Kravitz was introduced in New York City in early February to rave reviews.

However, as successful and well received as the campaign was, Jibrilu knew they couldn’t just hit play and sit back to wait for the tourists to come in droves. In the past six months, the Ministry of Tourism has been on a whirlwind tour to support the campaign, visiting China, Canada, Mexico, Germany and the UK, and there are more trips scheduled for the second part of the year.

The difference this time, says Jibrilu, is that they are not the ones banging on doors begging for an opportunity to show their wares. “I went to the World Travel and Tourism Council in Spain,” she says. “It’s the largest private sector tourism conference globally. I didn’t have a moment. Everyone wanted to meet with me and talk about our new campaign and how they could partner with us.”

The gamble pays off
Jibrilu says the campaign is reaping rewards they never could have imagined. In February, the month of the campaign launch, international arrivals increased by 11.1 per cent year-over-year.

Air capacity grew by 20 per cent in January and 21 per cent in February year over year, with a solid seat growth from the best-connected international markets–the US and Canada. And the rest of this year is already on target to do even better. The first quarter of 2019 showed double digit growth, and projections through the end of the year show that the campaign is definitely paying off.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization projects 6.5 per cent growth globally and 3.75 per cent growth for the Americas. If The Bahamas continues the way it is going, “we are on track to become record-breaking,” says Jibrilu.

Strategic spending
Perhaps the most incredible part of the campaign’s success and the resulting growth is that the Ministry of Tourism didn’t have unlimited funds. The total budget for all marketing activities the campaign creative and placement, as well as digital marketing, global and marketing and domestic marketing was $10 million. Competitor destinations are spending three times that amount and it pales in comparison to the marketing budgets of hospitality industry partners such as Atlantis and Baha Mar.

Jibrilu attributes the success, despite a “relatively miniscule” budget, to smart spending and managing the budget as carefully as possible, having an agency that wanted nothing more than to work on this account, a brand ambassador such as Kravitz, who goes above and beyond to promote The Bahamas, and increased airlift from key markets into destinations throughout the island chain.

Measuring success
For the past year, Jibrilu has found herself setting goals in terms of visitor arrivals and then readjusting them each quarter when they are surpassed.

“But we have to be realistic,” she cautions. “This level of growth is going to be limited by capacity. We only have a certain amount of rooms and inventory. There’s a point where you are saturated.”

And no matter what the overall numbers are, for her, only when Freeport and Grand Bahama is turned around, will she truly feel that they have achieved success. “We have to crack that nut,” she says of the country’s second city.

For the first time in a long while there is some hope thanks to some key project announcements on the island. While she would personally like to be more deliberately strategic in the rebuild of the Grand Bahama tourism market she accepts that the island is on life-support and The Bahamas “doesn’t have that luxury. We have to do something to get it going.”

The numbers for Grand Bahama have been showing some improvement, but there, more than anywhere else in the country, the lack of hotel rooms at the moment is holding it back. The government is in the midst of talks with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and its partner ITM to iron out an agreement for the purchase and redevelopment of the Our Lucaya resort complex.

Jibrilu says that the airlines have assured the Ministry of Tourism that as soon as there are places for people to stay, and tourists who want to come, they are ready to provide the necessary airlift.

What’s next?
Although she and her team are clearly enjoying the results of their hard work and the chances they took at producing something different, Jibrilu is already focused on what comes next. “That was the question I asked my team after the launch. It was so successful, I couldn’t sleep that night and my team said ‘aren’t you excited?’ And I said ‘where do we go from here? How do we top it?’”

They have two years to work on the next great campaign idea and she is definitely up for the challenge.

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