By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
FREEPORT - Although PLP Leader Perry Christie claims that stopover arrivals have declined under the FNM, Minister of Tourism Vincent Vanderpool Wallace reported that air arrivals were up 11.2 per cent in the first quarter.
At a PLP rally in Grand Bahama on Tuesday, Mr Christie stated that stop over visitors went up in the Caribbean, but went down in the Bahamas under the FNM.
Under the PLP administration, he claimed that tourism made history with over 5 million arrivals and sustained revenue of $2 billion up until 2006.
Mr Christie said the PLP's plans to re-energise tourism on Grand Bahama include cutting hotel and airline taxes, promoting local entertainment, markets and festivals, and providing incentives for airlifts and charters. He told Grand Bahamians that they would also expand Bahamian ownership in tourism.
At the FNM rally in Grand Bahama, Mr Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace claims that the PLP administration crippled the country's tourism industry.
In 2002 and 2007, he reported that 1,345 hotel rooms closed. "That was the biggest loss in the country's history. The rooms they closed are the very ones we needed in the recession, but they are gone," he said.
Mr Wallace said the Bahamas is experiencing growth in tourism, reporting that air arrivals are up 11.2 per cent in the first quarter.
"This is the third fastest rate of growth in the first three months of any year since Christopher Columbus," he added. "The other time was in 1994 in the first FNM administration, and the second time was in 1999 in the second (term of the) FNM administration."
Mr Vanderpool-Wallace said sea arrivals are also up. He also noted that there is increased business at the Grand Bahama Lucayan Resort.
He stated that the decisive leadership of the FNM has resulted in such unprecedented growth in tourism.
He noted that if the numbers continue to climb the Bahamas could reach the historic six-million-visitor mark.
Educator Norris Bain, the candidate for Marco City, said Mr Christie is no match for Mr Ingraham and the FNM's record in education and youth development.
"The FNM invested five times the amount the PLP invested in education during their last term," he said. And teachers...in the past few days received long awaiting health insurance, the FNM delivered that."
Mr Bain said that students could depend on the FNM government for scholarships. He said Sporting organisations will get land and athletes will find facilities at the Grand Bahama Sports complex well improved in the coming months.
Pakesia Edgecombe, the candidate for West Grand Bahama, said residents in West End and Eight Mile Rock communities would get a government town centre.
"The days of coming to Freeport to apply for passport, birth certificate and other services with key government agencies are soon over," she said. In Bimini, she said, residents there could expect improved infrastructure and programmes that will make the island second to none.
"Others talk about giving Bimini a new school, with me as your MP that new school that you have called for...will be fought for very hard," she said.
Kwasi Thompson, the MP for Pineridge, said residents of Pineridge could expect even more to come, including expanded free computer centre, and youth mentorship programmes in Hearn and Bass Lane areas.
He said he would also assist small business owners in Heritage, Hudson Estate, Queens Cove, Freeport Ridge by creating a small business registry and small business network.
Mr Thompson also promised to establish mentorship programmes for young business owners in Hawksbill and Regency Park.