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‘The Tourism Dilemma’: Gb Has Less Tourists Than 1977

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Minister of Tourism yesterday blamed his predecessor for “locking up” precious marketing dollars, as data revealed that Grand Bahama attracted MORE stopover visitors 40 years ago.

Dionisio D’Aguilar told Tribune Business that the data illustrated the Bahamas’ “dilemma of tourism”, as stopover visitors to that island were almost 14 per cent lower in 2015 (pre-Hurricane) Matthew than they were in 1977.

Ministry of Tourism data, released by the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) and obtained by Tribune Business, reveals that Grand Bahama attracted some 286,280 stopover visitors in 1977, compared to 246,518 in 2015 and 212,609 in 2016. The last time the island exceeded those numbers in 2006, prior to the worldwide recession.

“The general data illustrates that for the last 20 years, by and large, the stopover numbers have not moved,” Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business. “That is the dilemma of tourism.

“We’ve focused on total visitor numbers to our detriment, and all growth has come from cruise ship passengers who spend 22 times’ less than a stopover visitor....It’s wrong just to look at the number of people coming to the destination. We have to stop looking at the numbers that come here, and start looking at the GDP effect they have.”

With Moody’s, the credit rating agency, estimating that tourism generates two-thirds of Bahamian economic output or GDP, the slow-to-minimal growth in this nation’s higher-yielding stopover visitors explains this nation’s relatively poor growth performance since the 2008-2009 recession.

The Bahamas’ total 1.482 million stopover visitors in 2016 was still 7.4 per cent below the record-setting 1.6 million attracted in 2006, the last year of major growth before the global downturn.

The data also reveals that total hotel rooms in the Bahamas had decreased by 9.6 per cent over the past decade, dropping from 16,340 in 2007 to just 14,804 last year.

Mr D’Aguilar expressed hope that Baha Mar’s 2,300 net room increase would start to reverse this trend, telling Tribune Business that the Ministry of Tourism was “putting our heads together” and focusing its strategy on how to grow land-based visitors at a much faster rate.

The data also backed his decision to focus the Ministry’s marketing dollars on digital, online media, and close the Los Angeles and Washington D.C offices by amalgamating them with Houston and New York, respectively.

The statistics revealed that 68 per cent of the Bahamas’ tourists in 2016 booked their vacations online, a figure consistent with the year before, while just 28 per cent used a travel agent - down from 30 per cent in 2015.

The Ministry of Tourism released 25 pre-election hires and other workers to free-up marketing dollars, and Mr D’Aguilar yesterday said he spent “half-a-day” discussing its online promotional strategy.

Arguing that its current $2 million electronic spend was woefully inadequate, he told Tribune Business: “We need to direct as many marketing dollars as possible to social media and digital campaigning.

“We’re speaking with Google, Expedia, looking at all sorts of different ways to improve our penetration online.”

Mr D’Aguilar added that the current marketing budget was “not enough”, and said: “We’re being constantly out-spent. Aruba is out-spending us three times’, and Jamaica is out-spending us by 40 per cent.

“Overall, the most effective is Aruba. They’re out-spending us significantly. We’ve just allocated too much of our tourism budget to overheads, salaries and offices, and we’re being comprehensively outspent in a competitive market.

“We need many more dollars to be spent on marketing. It’s very competitive, we have to be be competitive and go dollar for dollar with other Caribbean nations.”

Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business that much of the Ministry’s marketing budget was “fixed”, and he criticised his predecessor, Obie Wilchcombe, for locking it into sporting contracts “that I can’t do anything about”.

He added that Mr Wilchcombe had sought to attach the Bahamas’ brand name to sporting events and teams, such as the LPGA’s Pure Silk Classic golf tournament on Paradise Island and football teams, believing this would help to attract visitors.

Disagreeing with this approach, and linking the Ministry’s marketing dollars to it, Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business: “I’m locked in, and have to wait until these contracts expire to free up the money.

“It was his [Mr Wilchcombe’s] way to drive stopover visitors, but it was not as successful as we thought it would be in bringing them to this destination. I have to wait for these contracts to expire I can redistribute funding to digital, social media and bloggers.”

With an improved tourism performance critical to the economic growth Moody’s is seeking to justify an ‘investment grade’ rating for the Bahamas, Mr D’Aguilar conceded: “Tourism contributes two-thirds of the economy, and I feel the weight on my shoulders to get the tourism product growing.

“This is an enormous job. Two-thirds of the economy is riding on my shoulders, and I can’t afford a mistake right now. We’ve got to pull all the stops out, and be as creative, innovative and successful as we can.”

Comments

birdiestrachan 2 years ago

He should just fix it. and stop wasting time throwing stones. He may not know, Grand Bahama lost the towers the Princess hotel and now Our Lucaya, He should show GB his motion and stop talking to people who can not think for themselves . And many years ago GB lost the Jack Tar hotel.

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DDK 2 years ago

"He should just fix it and stop wasting time throwing stones." This I agree with 100%

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banker 2 years ago

The Jack Tar is still there - figuratively anyway. Its demolished pieces of toxic waste were used as landfill when Crisco Butt gave it away to Ginn to make Ginn-sur-Mere subdivision, resort and marina, which failed miserably and never got off the ground. Pity anyone who buys that vacant land. The toxic building materials are outgassing into the soil. I wouldn't be surprised that if anyone lives on the land, that there will be sickness and birth defects like Flint, Michigan.

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hypernormaliaim 2 years ago

  1. Create events that are tailored to the American market - festival travel has increase exponentially with millennial travellers. With our proximity to the eastern US, we should be targeting the Vegas traveller. You create an event at-least once a quarter that will fill heads in beds which will stimulate GDP.

  2. You want to increase visitors to GBI? Think about which industries are booming in the US and soon Canada - in the next 5 years you will see Jamaica capitalizing on the decriminlization and weed tourism industry. We will probably wait until they do it and then say "oh, there is something here". Get the kinks out now. Also, allow of small businesses to produce their own strain of marijuanna for export. When it is legal in Canada, whichever destination opens up first will win on the marijuanna traveler BECAUSE THEY CAN SMOKE ON THE BEACH!

AS WINE FOR EUROPE, MARIJUANA WILL BE FOR THE CARIBBEAN! Let that sink in..

  1. Capitalize on the remote worker. Promote and target professionals who work from their computers to live and work in The Bahamas. Or even target tech companies to open up shop in The Bahamas specifically Nassau.

  2. Increase VAT in Nassau and decrease it in GBI. Turn Nassau into a true Metropolis. Increase ways for people to live and work in Nassau only. It needs to turn into a vibrant CITY! and the out islands remain the real island life atmosphere.

  3. Start to market the Bahamas more than just a vacation destination - you can go to the beach in Cuba, Jamaica, Aruba but what is the difference with The Bahamas and how can we get away with the astronomical amount it cost to get there, and only when a visitor gets here they realize they can get the same experience in another CHEAPER destination.

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ThisIsOurs 2 years ago

This sounds great, and no I'm not a proponent of marijuana, but I don't think this will turn out well. This same boom and jobs and tourism were arguments put forward for the gaming industry. What did we end up with? A mafia with untold unknown negative political influence and money sucked out of the economy in globbillions. I mean they were considering giving those guys banking licenses!

I predict we will end up with children between the ages of 8-16 "hooked" on marijuana. They'll go to school high, get high at lunch and walk around like zombies. They will constitute a new spaced out workforce just at the time when we should be cultivating brain power.

I'm certain there will be talk of all the programs they'll put in place to prevent young children from using, they won't do it and it won't work.

I also predict some people will get rich.

But some good ideas there....

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hypernormaliaim 2 years ago

With gambling there should be one national lottery that could be taxed.

The fact that these number houses are still open as they suck the majority of our work force money is ridiculous - i am surprised the FNM didn't change this instantly..

I agree with you to come extent when it comes to social ills that MAY come with the leagalization of marijuana. But if you look at the proof with Colorado, within 1 month they made millions in taxes which went right back into the education system..

So think about it.. if you create a new industry which is taxed and you are educating Bahamians to make the right decisions then it is a win win.

And facts show in places like Amsterdam and Colorado the use of Marijuana in youths decreased because of all the education that came with it.

At the end of the day, industries are changing and we can sit here and talk all this talk and expect things to change or blame the previous person. Action speaks and things need to change

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banker 2 years ago

Capitalize on the remote worker. Promote and target professionals who work from their computers to live and work in The Bahamas. Or even target tech companies to open up shop in The Bahamas specifically Nassau.

This is absolutely fooking huge! There should be a special class of residency for remote workers. There should be a law stating that residency permits are approved in 48 hours. The only check should be that they do not have a criminal record and the source of their income is outside the Bahamas. And presto, they are in!! They would bring huge economic offset to the Bahamas because they are paid well. It would create a huge impact on tech tourism -- product expos, technology seminars and courses, and workplace incentives. A Toronto insurance company flies their head office employees to the Cayman Islands for two weeks. Not only that, but it would be the seeds of a knowledge industry here. These types of people are called Digital Nomads and they are also startup prone. They would start up tech businesses and eventually employ local people.

Lifestyle is important to digital nomads, and this is one area where the tired old chestnut of sun, sand, sea and tropical drinks is still a valid appeal -- especially if it is your working milieu.

But sigh, any Bahamian politician is not cognizant or aware enough to even recognise the potential, and since they never heard of it before, there is absolutely zero chance of them doing something innovative like this.

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FreeportFreddy 2 years ago

I am one of these Digital Nomads ... and contribute significantly to the local economy.

It should be promoted as it is very viable to work from GBI and attend meetings on a quarterly basis in Canada and/or the US.

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MamaSMH 2 years ago

I am a Digital Nomad too - out in the Exumas. Sad to report that wimax has been down here for the last month (no joke) and have been purchasing pre-paid cellular data to get by - when the phones are working. (Thanks BTC...Everyday!) P.S. If the Bahamas got serious about attracting us nomads - something upwards of "up to 8 mbps"would be appreciated. It's the infrastructure, stupid.

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BahamaPundit 2 years ago

It is time to free Free Port!!! Remove all restrictions to US, Canadian and UK persons and companies moving there for comercial purposes. No work permits required. No duty. No BIA approvals. The Government would still make a killing from stamp tax, VAT and company incorporation fees. If this is done, Free Port real estate would pop overnight. In ten years, it could become another NYC with skyscrapers etc. Nassau residents would flock there due to its booming economy and Nassau would become less over populated. The US government would start investing in The Bahamas again. Only sector reserved strictly for Bahamians should be the commercial fishing sector. We would still have the rest of The Bahamas all to ourselves. We have no choice. We are bankrupt! Time to be innovative. Time to put The Bahamas on the map again. It is time to free Free Port or die a slow death of financial stagnation and ruin.

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Gotoutintime 2 years ago

BahamaPundit----What you are suggesting was exactly the way things were in Freeport during the early 1960's. Work permits were no problem, and everybody had a job. After 1967 the goose was cooked. Sadly, it can never go back!

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ThisIsOurs 2 years ago

Lol. Make the Bahamas great again, bring our country back...with segregated bathrooms to boot.

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banker 2 years ago

@BahamaPundit -- This is exactly what Cayman Enterprise City did. You get work permits for spouse, employees, relaxation of import duties for management AND employees to move to the Caymans, you get telephone, secretary services and office space, legislative mandated approvals in 10 working days, and all it costs you is about $12,000 -- for the entire package. Check it out -- read it and weep: http://www.caymanenterprisecity.com/">http://www.caymanenterprisecity.com/

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ThisIsOurs 2 years ago

I think the festival idea is a good one but not the route of carnival. Let's create wholesome festivals and not be branded hedonism

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Socrates 2 years ago

its always the same story with us bahamians, do something to make things better as long as you dont change anything... what messed up thinking...

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ashley14 2 years ago

I looked for a hotel yesterday in Grand Bahama, there is nowhere to stay. I guess they are limited to cruise ship passengers to make a living. What is going on? Grand Bahamas is a beautiful island with lots of potential. I can't believe it's in the shape it's in. Why is the government not backing getting this Island booming again? It's helps everyone.

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DiverBelow 2 years ago

On-island Bahamians need to quit looking in the mirror and feeling sorry for yourselves as the world passes you by. It will & is. All islands have the same challenges, nothing new. Research what others have done to resolve these, while reviewing what mistakes were made by others. Foreign located Bahamians would love to come Home, if they had opportunities to be contributors to society, as they are wherever they are now. Break the mirror, no bad luck!

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Greentea 2 years ago

Any other ideas besides tourism? Bahamas has very little growth potential in this area- except in the lovelier and quaint family islands. Grand Bahama just isn't interesting. Never has been.

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FINCASTLE 2 years ago

Grammar correction...given that our newspapers are read by people all over the world. Headline should read FEWER tourists not LESS tourists. FEWER refers to number whereas LESS refers to wholeness. LESS tourists would mean tourists with missing parts. Not to be picky..but our journalists should be more careful.

"I ate LESS today because in the cafeteria there were FEWER food choices available". There are FEWER tourists in Grand Bahama giving us LESS of a chance to make more money.

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banker 2 years ago

If there are any tourists who are amputees, then less would be appropriate. The word less is more appropriate for PLPs though, because they are not whole persons -- they have less brains, less intelligence, less integrity, less truthfulness, less altruism .... I could go on, but everyone but PLPs gets the point.

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birdiestrachan 2 years ago

Did it ever enter his mind that there are very few hotel rooms. He will do well to think before he speaks.

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banker 2 years ago

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by banker

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regrolli 2 years ago

The only significant difference between Freeport and Enterprise City in Cayman is immigration policy. What are we so afraid of here? Liberalise the archaic and self defeating work and residency permit policy - open the place up. Digital nomads are a huge potential market that we are scaring off with protectionist immigration policy. Bahamians currently have nothing to aspire to; nothing to want to be at home for. Foreign influence brings innovation and new opportunity. We have to welcome these people, not deter them. There is no hospitality in the Bahamas anymore. It's all about what 'they' can do for us - from politicians down to the street merchants. Gimme, gimme, gimme. What about collateral benefit? There may not be direct benefits for all but more people bring more spending, more spending brings more opportunity. Grand Bahama needs a minimum of 50,000 more residents. What about the second home market in Freeport? Immigration policy continues to screw this up. Actively go after the second home market; actively go after digital nomads. Spend marketing money in business market sectors, not only tourism sectors. Get a clear and concise offering together. Do this, you get that. We continue to try and use an old model. Times have changed and if we are going to survive we have to change too. It's not difficult if we can just find it in ourselves to get away from the anti anything foreign mindset.

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