By Natario McKenzie
Tribune Business Reporter
Tourism Minister Dionisio D'Aguilar yesterday stressed that The Bahamas needs to get its six million annual visitors to spend more money, suggesting that a 'radically different' approach is needed to tourism development in the country.
Mr D'Aguilar who addressed tourism stakeholders at the British Colonial Hilton yesterday admitted that it was a 'worrisome' fact that the higher spending stop-over visitor segment has seen very little growth over the years.
"Stopover visitors are the most important determinant of the total spend. Our cruise ship passengers are spending $69 and our stopover visitors are spending approximately $1,500. The cruise ship passengers represent 75 per cent of our visitor arrivals yet they only represent 12 per cent of the spend. There is our dilemma. While our numbers are growing, it's in the cruise sector. Our stopover visitors have remained constant between 1.4-1.6 million. This is a worrying fact," said Mr D'Aguilar.
Mr D'Aguilar added: "In 2016, the decline in stopovers already began with numbers falling 0.2 per cent year-on-year. In fact, stopover numbers year-to-date are already down six per cent. Clearly, the status quo can't remain. The stakes are very high. There is no doubt that we need a radically different approach to tourism development and we need it now. We have to figure out how to get these 6.2 million to spend more in our economy. It's not so important to grow the number but to get more spend."
Mr D'Aguilar noted that The Bahamas witnessed 'respectable' 4.2 per cent growth in tourist arrivals between 1995-2011. "From 2011 to 2016, that rate of growth has slowed to 2.3 per cent which if you compare it to our Caribbean neighbours is actually almost half of the rate of growth happening in the rest of the Caribbean today. Caribbean tourism has grown nearly twice as fast at 4.3 per cent annual growth since 2011. We did fairly well up until 2011 but if you look at the numbers we now slowed down to 2.3 per cent," Mr D'Aguilar noted.
Still, he argued that rather than simply focus on the numbers, more focus should be placed on the economic value of visitor arrivals. "Between 2000-2015, our visitor arrivals have increased but the spend per visitor has actually decreased 30 per cent during the period. Our visitor arrivals are up 48 per cent but our spend is down 28 per cent. Our visitor arrivals went from 4.1 million in 2000 to 6.2 million. The average spend has decreased from $586 to $422. What's happened is the decline in spend per visitor has significantly offset the total arrival growth the last few years. If one accounts for inflation, total tourism spend in The Bahamas has remained virtually constant since 2000," said Mr D'Aguilar.