By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The Bahamas’ current tourism model is “all wrong” because it “silos” the visitor experience from the indigenous population, a young social entrepreneur yesterday calling for this nation to integrate both sides.
Alana Rodgers, founder of True Bahamian Food Tours, who was one of several Caribbean entrepreneurs on a panel at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) meeting, said beautiful beaches and this nation’s proximity to the US were not enough to set it apart from the competition in the tourism and hospitality sector.
“People are coming to a country to get to know it, and to discover and to get to do the things that they cannot do at home,” Ms Rodgers said.
“We are close to the United States, we use the US dollar and we have beautiful beaches, but that’s not enough for us to differentiate ourselves in this very competitive landscape. The things that are different and unique, and what we are trying to get visitors to see, are the people, our traditions and our culture.”
She added: “Food is obviously an example of that, but there are so many other areas and aspects. Right now, our tourism model silos the tourist experience from our natural population, and we are getting that all wrong.
“We have to find a way to integrate tourists and our Bahamian communities, and create mixed use areas and spaces for visitors and locals. Right now we don’t have that.”
Tru Bahamian Food Tours was founded in 2012 to offer visitors an authentic Bahamian culinary experience, and has hit the top spot for Nassau activities on Trip Advisor.
Ms Rodgers’ comments follow a Caribbean Development Trends blog posting on the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) website, in which the Bahamas was warned that the window to “rebrand” Nassau was closing.
The writer, Andreina Seijas, said: “At a time when neighbouring and relatively lower-cost Caribbean destinations, such as Cuba, are becoming increasingly competitive, it is critical for the Bahamas - and especially for Nassau - to put together a strategy that is able to ‘rebrand’ the city by enhancing both residents’ and tourists’ experiences in a way that showcases Bahamian history and culture.”
She pointed out that downtown Nassau was “rich with historic landmarks and local treasures”, but became “almost completely silent and vacant after sunset”.
“This phenomenon is especially common in emerging cities where the inadequate use of tangible and intangible urban assets contrasts with a rapid urban expansion towards suburbia,” the writer added.
Referring to an Urban Design Planning Workshop that was held in Nassau between October 5-9, 2015, involving the Government, IDB, the College of The Bahamas (COB), and the Vienna University of Technology (UTV), revealed that Bahamans - especially young people - avoided downtown because it only catered to tourists.
“Big retailers have migrated from Bay Street and relocated to high-end shopping malls towards the West of the city,” Ms Seijas said.
“As a result, downtown only offers the Straw Market, a few jewellery and souvenir shops, several food joints and scattered government buildings.
“Moreover, the redevelopment of areas such as Cable Beach as a tourist zone, and the drop on the number of stopover visitors - those who stay at least 24 hours or more - are factors that have led to the overall deterioration of downtown Nassau.”