By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
A NEW $3m Grand Bahama advertising campaign by the Ministry of Tourism will run with the start of expanded cruise services from South Florida to the island, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced in Freeport this week.
The Grand Life campaign – with the tag line “Life is Grand on Grand Bahama” – will also help to promote the inaugural Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival, which kicks off in Freeport in April.
At a press conference on Monday, it was announced that both the Grand Celebration Cruise line and Balearia Bahamas Express have acquired new, larger vessels to begin services from West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale respectively in 2015.
The cruise lines are projected to bring an “unprecedented” level of overnight arrivals to the island next year. Grand Celebration alone is expecting to bring 280,000 passengers annually, with not less than 100,000 staying in hotels, and Mr Christie has stressed that there will be equal sharing in ground transportation among taxi drivers and tour operators.
Additionally, Mr Christie said it is important that visitors are able to experience more cultural activities and entertainment when they arrive. He believes Junkanoo Carnival will help to enhance visitor satisfaction for cruise passengers.
“We believe visitor satisfaction will be much higher for them (cruise lines) as a result of the people they will bring (to experience) the cultural shows, concerts, and street parades depicting all aspect of Bahamian culture and heritage and other events sanctioned and supported by the Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival Commission,” he said.
Mr Christie estimated that the event will draw 16,000 spectators to Grand Bahama from abroad, and from around the Family Islands.
“It is really not just a question of government finding the money to do it, but we will bring world class festival organisers who will help us design a reason for people from around the world to come to the Bahamas,” he said.
According to the prime minister, his government is living up to its promise of turning tourism around in Grand Bahama.
He reported that as a result of government policy initiatives and its partnership with Sunwing and Hutchison Whampoa, the island has already started to show significant increase in stopover arrivals.
The new Memories Beach Resort, formerly the Reef Village which was leased from Hutchison, opened early this year by the operators Blue Diamond Hotel and Resort, an affiliate of the Sunwing Travel Group, one of the largest travel conglomerates in Canada.
Mr Christie stated that 300 construction jobs were created, and 600 new full time jobs and 150 indirect jobs.
Sunwing provides airlift from eight Canadian cities, and service from ten US cities to Grand Bahama.
Prime Minister Christie indicated that the turnaround shows that Grand Bahama experienced a 36 per cent increase in stopover arrivals to date compared with 2013, with visitor nights of almost 55 per cent of the first six months of 2014.
He also reported an increase by 38 per cent in overall room revenue to $26m. “Occupancy around the island is up eight per cent,” he added.
“I am pleased to say that Sunwing and government is pursuing further expansion and involvement in Grand Bahama which could further enhanced the tourism product.
“We are also engaged in promising discussions with other investors with the capacity to significantly upgrade and expand tourism offerings, including resorts, attractions, gaming, airlift real estate, as well as commercial and industrial components.
“There is significantly more to come for Grand Bahama and we are directly involved in a process that will lead to specific developments, which are being considered to come to (the island),” he said.