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Tourism 'Starving': The Shop Is Bare

By NEIL: HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Bahamian tourism is “starving” because it has both failed to develop a unique product, a well-known architect believes, and not invested in creating key “attractions”.

Pat Rahming, of Pat Rahming & Associates, told Tribune Business that while the Bahamas had potential tourism product “coming out of its ears”, much of it was “locked away in a warehouse with three padlocks on it”.

And he explained that rather than focus on developing one-of-a-kind ‘attractions’, the Bahamas had instead concentrated the bulk of its tourism investments in the infrastructure that supported them - accommodation (hotels) and transportation.

Pointing to the “dilapidated” state of Nassau’s few land-based attractions, such as the forts and Water Tower, Mr Rahming likened Bahamian tourism to a shop with little inventory on its shelves.

Arguing that ‘attractions’ were the equivalent of tourism’s “cash register”, Mr Rahming said of these shortcomings: “That’s why we’re losing our shirts, and other people are eating our lunch.”

His thoughts offer a new perspective on why some believe the Bahamas’ tourism competitiveness is slip-sliding away, a perception reinforced by a Tribune Business report last week.

This newspaper reported that stopover visitors’ share of total foreign arrivals to the Bahamas had slipped from around 31-32 per cent pre-recession to around 24-25 per cent for the past four years. In raw terms, this means that high yielding stopover visitors (spending over $1,000 per head) have declined from one out of every three visitors to one out of every four.

Recalling how he arrived at his conclusions, Mr Rahming said he first began attending the annual American Parks and Attractions convention some 17-18 years ago.

Becoming a regular attendee every November, he explained: “The key was that I learned through that organisation that the business of tourism, the members of that organisation were the people that drove the business of tourism globally.

“At the various seminars and workshops, I came to understand why our business was floundering, what we were doing and perhaps ought not to be doing.”

Although he failed to convince Ministry of Tourism officials to accompany him to that convention, Mr Rahming said he learnt that all tourists - wherever they were in the world - were seeking unique Place-specific Experiences.

This, he told Tribune Business, could be delivered through a variety of products - place, history, mythology and lifestyle. New York and Miami were lifestyle destinations; London was a historical destination; Athens was steeped in ancient mythology; and unique places included the likes of Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon.

Downtown Nassau was once, Mr Rahming said, the place-specific destination that Spanish Wells, Hope Town and Green Turtle Cay were now. Yet the fundamental flaw was that the Bahamas still had to properly define its tourism product (Place-specific experience).

Noting that the Bahamas represented Christopher Columbus’s first port of call in the Western Hemisphere in 1492, Mr Rahming told Tribune Business: “Someone looking for a warm weather destination, sun, sand and sea, has half the world available to him, but the guy looking for the spot where contemporary civilisation started has only one choice.

“We are the genesis of all contemporary Americans, the Bahamas. Isn’t that incredible? This is why it becomes so important to the business of tourism. We have product coming out of our ears, but it’s all locked away with three padlocks on it.”

In contrast, Mr Rahming said the Dominican Republic had chosen in 1991 to focus on Columbus as an attraction, changing the focus of its tourism product.

It had also concentrated on golf, these two moves explaining why its stopover visitor numbers had increased by 109.8 per cent in the nine years up to 2000. Cuba’s growth over the same period was 318.4 per cent, yet the Bahamas’ growth remained in low double digits.

Unlike New Orleans with its ‘Voodo’ aura, Mr Rahming said the Bahamas had never exploited its ‘Obeah’ mythology. “This is one of the few places you can go where there isn’t a church tour,” he added.

And, while aspects of the Bahamian diet and lifestyle were unique, this nation paid “so little attention to it” as part of the tourism product.

“The position is that we have product coming out of our ears, but we are losing business because we have no product,” Mr Rahming told Tribune Business. “This is why we are losing our shirts, people are eating our lunch.”

This, he added, was exacerbated by the Bahamas misunderstanding where the tourism ‘Point of Sale’ or cash register was located. It was not located in hotels, transportation or hospitality, which were supporting infrastructure, but attractions.

Mr Rahming said there were five types of attraction - traditional tours; retail (the Straw Market); events (the Super Bowl); infrastructure; and resorts.

He described the latter as “the most misunderstood in our neck of the woods”. Bahamians generally believed resorts were a hotel with a few facilities, but Mr Rahming argued it was the other way around - a resort was an attraction with accommodation as the supporting facility.

Pointing to Atlantis as a water-based theme park attraction, Mr Rahming told Tribune Business: “Atlantis is an attraction, but it has accommodation.

“They understand that, and you never hear an Atlantis executive call Atlantis a hotel. But you’ll hear us call it a hotel because we don’t understand.”

The result of this misunderstanding, Mr Rahming said, was that “the only investment for the tourism business is on accommodation, and this isn’t helping us.

“If you look at New Providence, you will see all our attractions are in trouble. We have few tours, and by any definition of tourism we have very few land-based attractions. What we have are dilapidated or in bad shape,” he told Tribune Business.

“That’s the product we are selling. We have the Ministry of Tourism going out to bring customers in, but we have very little inventory on the shelves, and what is on the shelves is not selling. That’s why our lunch is being eaten by other people.”

Focusing on Freeport, Mr Rahming said the strategy of concentrating on casino and hotel operators was entirely misplaced. “In their case there is absolutely nothing on the shelf, nothing whatsoever,” he told Tribune Business.

“We have product coming out of our ears. This destination, the Bahamas, is the most gifted community on the planet, 350,000 people. You put us against any other community in the world, we have more champions per capita. Why are we starving?

“It’s about the fact the shop is open and there’s very little on the shelf. You can’t make money without stuff on the shelf.”

Going back to the retail analogy, Mr Rahming said the industry’s ‘first rule’ was that if there was something to sell, it had to be easy to buy. The second was that if you were selling something the competition could sell, price would inevitably drive sales.

This was the situation Bahamian tourism now found itself in, a price-driven competition, due to the absence of a unique product and associated attractions.

Comments

TalRussell 6 years, 6 months ago

Comrade Pat well put and written.

Might I add that for the massive Baha Mar to even begin to pay its bills, it will be 80% financially dependent upon attracting a steady stream of Asian tourist dollars.

Even if successful at getting Baha Mar's cash registers to ring continuously, still there will be nothing but crumbs for local merchants cash registers, venturing outside the Baha Mar tourist designated spending boundaries. Dream on but it ain't ever going benefit local merchants.

Anyone familiar with Asian travelers would know that their every move is well planned out and tightly controlled, long before they even board the plane for their travel destination.

What could have possibly changed economically since the day when former PM Ingraham stated, that the Baha Mar was too massive a project for our tiny Bahamaland, to proceed with at one time? yet he proceeded, returning from China with 8100 Chinese workers in tow?

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by TalRussell

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USAhelp 6 years, 6 months ago

Also the resorts furnish a complete experience including protection. Tourists will not venture off due to the higher crime rate on tourist. Wont miss it till it is all gone.

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Cornel 6 years, 6 months ago

Are you kidding? To say that the reason people go to the Dominican Republic is because they "focus on Columbus" is ridiculous. Then to quote the increase in tourist arrivals between 1991 and 2000 is irrelevant in today's economic environment. Between 2006 and 2012 Tourist arrivals in the DR went from 3,965,055 to 4,560,000 ; an increase of about 15%. Of this increase 10% happened between 2010 and 2012.

Why - Well the economy started to improve somewhat. Also, unlike the Bahamas where 80-90% of all overnight arrivals come from the USA in the DR they are spread around the world. The US accounts for under 30%.

Also - Could it be the cost of a room ? (it's low) The cost of Food and Beverage (it's low) The service? (it's good).

To think that all the Bahamas has to do is to build a Columbus Museum to double the arrivals is a bit far fetched.

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jackflash 6 years, 6 months ago

Service and value for money is what attracts tourists AND what makes them come back...

We have high costs, poor service and an automatic 15% gratuity!

And if you are sitting on the beach you get hassled by hair braiders, T shirt sellers and the like.

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concerned799 6 years, 6 months ago

How are Bahamian workers supposed to compete with non-unionized Phillipino workers on cruise ships who earn a pittance of Bahamian wages and why should they? It is our country!

Perhaps if ships the size of small islands weren't soaking up BILLIONS in investment capital there would be a market for it to be invested on LAND.

Failure to address the wider issue of what role if any the low margin cruise industry should play in the Bahamas tourism future is a failing of this analysis.

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positiveinput 6 years, 6 months ago

We have alot to offer yet perfer to keep it locked away. As simple as turning the grass area with the stage out Fish Fry into a real heritage park could be an easy start. That area is already partially fenced in so to fully enclose it wouldnt take much. Use the cruise ships schedule as an event planner. To access that section of the grounds would require a mere dollar for adults and fifty cents for kids, pay as you enter each time, no re-entry. Strickly Bahamian artist performing live, making it manditory for the local stalls to have their music set to a level to entertain only their guests inside their stalls. Tourist love live music. Now with the money obtain from the gate Bahamian Artist could receive a performance pay, more jobs as grounds men and security are made available not to mention the Fish Fry grounds helping to throw an extra dollar into the public treasury. Oh yeah and have that area bottle free to encourage family group outtings. Dont forget to throw in the steel drums. There are so much events that could be put in place but who to tell them to when everyone just rather sit back and complain about the big cruise ship this the big cruise ship that. I just came back from Orlando and walking the International Drive strip I was so proud to see a resturant called Bahama something, forgot the name, have a larger crowd than their Senior Frogs and other eatery. By the way there was a guy there playing the steel drums, and the crowd was just amazed.

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ThisIsOurs 6 years, 6 months ago

I dont have any big ideas for drawing tourist dollars but I know they like clean. Clean up the Potter's Cay dock area, it's a mess. I've actually seen it listed as a tourist attraction on some sites. Stop the shantyization of Nassau, long Wharf is next, every week I see a new clapboard structure being erected...where is town planning, who thinks this looks attractive? (Arawak Cay is on the shanty tipping point)

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SP 6 years, 6 months ago

With 20 years hands on experience in various sectors of tourism, I totally agree with Patrick Rahming.

I've said it many times right here that successive governments do not understand tourism and have absolutely no clue what they are doing.

In support of this statement one need simply consider how much funding has been earmarked annually by either PLP or FNM in resort and attraction development maintenance.

For 40 years the Ministry of tourism has found great pleasure in announcing increases in tourist arrivals. Never once has a Minister mentioned any plans of how they plan to increase in resort spending.

It is totally asinine for the Bahamas to invest untold millions annually to attract more and more visitors, then have nothing in place to allow visitors to spend money allocated to be spent while on vacation.

Tourist are literally bringing money here to spend, but find nothing here to spend their money on. So they take their money back home or spend it in other destinations.

Government needs to cut back on advertising and marketing for several years and divert those funds into resort product development and maintenance.

Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Mexico are all seeing increases in tourism and tourism spend because they developed in-resort activities, night clubs etc that allow visitors the opportunity to experience their countries.

For the life of me I cannot understand how the PLP and FNM could be so blind as not to have enough sense to simply LOOK at competing destinations and copy what they have done to increase tourist spend.

What is the point of attracting 5 million tourist annually if they can only spend $50.00 each? It would make far more sense to have 3 million visitors spending $250.00 each.

For decades local entertainers were begging PLP & FNM administrations for assistance in revitalizing the night club industry. So far neither can see the need to bend over backwards and get this down.

Meanwhile Cuba has more entertainment in 3 city blocks in Havana than the entire Bahamas combined.

Our "leaders" are inept, totally lost and ignorant as to what a "fun resort destination" should entail.

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