By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM Minister Obie Wilchcombe said discussions currently underway to package the Cuban and Bahamian tourism products as a joint multi-destination offer could, if achieved, “bolster the opportunities for both countries:.
Speaking to The Tribune nearing the end of a recent trip to Cuba, the West End and Bimini MP hinted that discussions between himself and his Cuban counterpart, Manuel Marrero, have hinged on pairing the two “fantastic tourism products” as a package to airlift providers operating in two of the world’s largest markets.
According to Mr Wilchcombe, a deal of this magnitude would push passengers travelling to either country to travel to the other destination by local airlines as part of their trip.
The idea, he said, has always been to find new and unique ways to guarantee that people travelling to the Caribbean view The Bahamas as a premier destination.
“During this trip, we have had a number of important discussions, all centred around presenting our destinations as the place to be,” he said during a recent interview. “The work we are doing here, is in short, an extension of what we have done with the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO). The focus is strengthening the relationship we have with Cuba, while expanding the range and reach of the CTO.
“Cuba has around 62,000 beds they have to work to fill. We have a slightly smaller number in The Bahamas but, the fact is that we want all filled. If there is a way we can guarantee that we get that done we have to do our due diligence to ensure that it gets done. Persons want to travel to The Bahamas, chances are those same people want to travel to Cuba or vice-versa. If we can arrange a structure in which they get both, I think we can all benefit from that.
“For The Bahamas, CTO can open that market. If we strengthen our bond with other destinations in the region we can see a decrease in airlift taxes across the board. A reduction there can lead to an increase in persons travelling to the region.”
CTO operates as the region’s tourism development agency, working to present the Caribbean in its entirety as the most desirable, year round, warm weather destination.
The Bahamas and Cuba are two of the organisation’s 31 members.
Countries have been quick to normalise flight services into Cuba in recent months, after the lifting of the United States’ trade embargo with Cuba.
That has led many economic experts to predict a surge in the island nation’s economy and tourism industry.
However, amidst these projections Mr Wilchcombe contended that The Bahamas should not view Cuba as a competitor, but as an ally.
He indicated that his ministry’s stance has been, and will remain, working to ensure that every tourist that enters the Caribbean finds their way to the shores of The Bahamas.