By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamian tourism industry will generate the greatest GDP and employment growth of all Caribbean destinations in 2015, a global travel body has forecast, despite Baha Mar’s decision to postpone Friday’s planned opening until May.
Speaking to Tribune Business before last night’s announcement, Robert Sands, the developer’s senior vice-president of government and external affairs, said the World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC) research showed the Bahamas was “regaining its preeminent position in tourism”.
The WTTC findings, released early this week, ranked the Bahamas 18th out of more than 180 nations for real growth in the tourism industry’s direct contribution to 2015 gross domestic product (GDP).
The Bahamas’ projected growth rate of 6.7 per cent was some two percentage points higher than the next Caribbean destination, Jamaica, at 4.7 per cent.
This nation also led the way in real growth in tourism’s direct and indirect contribution to 2015 GDP, standing at 19th spot in the world with 6.3 per cent - a rate 2.2 percentage points higher than Jamaica’s.
The WTTC also ranked the Bahamas as the Caribbean leader for tourism’s increased contribution to overall employment. The sector’s direct and total contribution to job creation is projected to increase by 5 per cent on both counts, respectively, in 2015.
Whether those projections will be subject to change, given that Baha Mar has moved its opening date back again - this time from March 27 to the first week of May - is unclear. The WTTC forecasts, though, are clearly heavily reliant on the $3.5 billion developer to come through with its hotels and 5,000 permanent jobs.
Mr Sands, commenting on the WTTC report obtained by Tribune Business, told this newspaper: “What is positive is that the Bahamas is regaining its preeminent position in tourism, and that augurs well for the destination and Baha Mar.”
He added that the WTTC was likely accounting for Baha Mar’s opening to generate much of the forecast growth, and added: “I firmly believe that what this says is what the Bahamas has been speaking about for a long period of time.
“A product improvement, investing in hotels, investing in all forms of training for Bahamians, will help the Bahamas rebound, and we saw indications of that in the results for the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015.”
The WTTC projections suggest the growth generated by Bahamian tourism in 2015 will exceed the average expansion rate generated by the sector over the next 10 years.
The report forecast: “The direct contribution of travel and tourism to GDP in 2014 was $1.683 billion (19.4 per cent of GDP). This is forecast to rise by 6.7 per cent to $1.795 billion in 2015.
“This primarily reflects the economic activity generated by industries such as hotels, travel agents, airlines and other passenger transportation services (excluding commuter services). But it also include the activities of the restaurant and leisure industries directly supported
“The direct contribution of travel and tourism to GDP is expected to grow by 3.5 per cent per annum to $2.533 billion (23 per cent of GDP) by 2025.”
Looking at the so-called ‘bigger picture’, the WTTC report predicted: “The total contribution of travel and tourism to GDP (including wider effects from investment, the supply chain and induced income impacts) was $3.784 billion in 2014 (43.6 per cent of GDP), and is expected to grow by 6.3 per cent to $4.024 billion (45.4 per cent of GDP) in 2015.
“It is forecast to rise by 3.5 per cent per annum to $5.656 billion by 2025 (51.4 per cent of GDP).”
In other words, the Bahamas is set to become more - not less - reliant on tourism.
When it came to Bahamian employment, the WTTC report added: “Travel and tourism generated 51,000 jobs directly in 2014 (27 per cent of total employment), and this is forecast to grow by 5 per cent in 2015 to 54,000 (28 per cent of total employment).
“By 2025, travel and tourism will account for 65,000 jobs directly, an increase of 1.9 per cent per annum over the next 10 years.”
When it came to tourism’s total jobs impact, the WTTC added: “The total contribution of travel and tourism to employment (including wider effects from investment, the supply chain and induced income impacts) was 98,000 jobs in 2014 (51.6 per cent of total employment).
“This is forecast to rise by 5 per cent in 2015 to 103,000 jobs (53.7 per cent of total employment). By 2025, travel and tourism is forecast to support 124,000 jobs (60.6 per cent of total employment), an increase of 1.9 per cent per annum over the period.”
Mr Sands yesterday reiterated economic impact studies showing that Baha Mar would generate $12 billion in extra employee income over the project’s first 20 years, and a $25 billion increase in visitor spending during its first 10 years.
This will be the key driver of the WTTC’s 10-year growth forecasts for the Bahamian tourism industry, which is set to remain the largest sector in the economy for the foreseeable future.
“Visitor exports generated $2.261 billion (61.5 per cent of total exports) in 2014,” the WTTC report said. “This is forecast to grow by 7.8 per cent in 2015, and grow by 3.9 per cent per annum from 2015-2025 to $3.562.6 billion (67.9 per cent of the total).
“Travel and tourism investment in 2014 was $417.9 million or 18.3 per cent of total investment. It should rise by 4.1 per cent in 2015, and rise by 3.3 per cent per annum over the next 10 years to $600.7 million in 2025 (20.8 per cent of total).”