By Roderick A. Simms II
Bahamas Chamber of Commerce director and Family Island division chairperson RASII@ME.com
Mayaguana remains one of the most pristine and untouched islands in the Bahamas. Yet the island – home to beautiful beaches, unique wildlife and world-class fishing – has never fully reached its development potential.
Although Mayaguana shares several of the investment hurdles commonly found throughout the Family Islands, it presents many opportunities for Bahamian and international pioneers seeking a virtual blank slate for projects across several growing industries.
Many developers over the years have envisioned large-scale tourism ‘anchor projects’ as the potential foundation for economic growth on the island, most notably the Boston-based I-Group, which proposed a $1.8 billion development back in 2006. While progress on that and other massive, capital-intensive projects has stalled, Mayaguana still has considerable untapped potential in the tourism industry through smaller scale developments.
Eco tourism is frequently cited by international tourism organisations as the fastest-growing sector of the industry, as tourists are increasingly drawn to off-the-grid and environmentally friendly boutique resorts. Mayaguana, with its rich national parks and largely undeveloped land, is ripe with potential for eco tourism expansion.
However, simply providing rooms and basic services will not be enough to attract visitors, as local hoteliers already operating on the island can attest. Compelling excursions and guide companies are just part of the holistic improvements to the island’s tourism offerings that are needed to promote Mayaguana’s unique assets and set the island apart from the pack.
Nature Guide Services
With those needs in mind, Mayaguana also presents opportunities for young Bahamians interested in work as licensed guides in flats-fishing and birdwatching. Charter flats-fishing and deep-sea fishing continue to be quite lucrative for Bahamian guides. The Bahamian government partnered with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in 2014 to bolster the sustainability of the country’s fly fishing sector through a multi-step programme that will provide training and certification guidelines for a new generation of Bahamian fly fishing guides.
The Ministry of Tourism, along with the Bahamas National Trust and the US-based National Audubon Society, also launched a new birdwatching initiative in January 2017, designed to train Bahamian tour guides throughout the Family Islands. Mayaguana’s Booby Cay National Park, which boasts many rare migratory birds, could attract birdwatchers worldwide.
Yachting and Marina Services
Although Mayaguana has become less competitive in the yachting industry in recent years due to a lack of adequate refuelling stations, the island remains a convenient half-way stop between yachters sailing between Florida and the eastern Caribbean, including the Turks and Caicos and Puerto Rico. A full-service marina could fill a crucial gap in the south-eastern Bahamas and bring yachters back to Mayaguana in droves as they make their way throughout the Caribbean.
Mayaguana did not receive heavy structural damage during Hurricane Joaquin, unlike many of the other southern Family Islands, meaning that the island’s existing infrastructure remains in relatively good condition for those willing to invest in a marina or other linked small businesses, such as grocery stores and gift shops.
Investing in Mayaguana is not without its risks, and potential investors should be aware of several key challenges facing start-ups and large-scale developments on the island. Shipping goods and building materials to the island is comparatively expensive given the island’s remoteness and underdeveloped port, meaning high start-up costs for aspiring entrepreneurs. Bahamasair currently flies to Abraham’s Bay twice a week, while the MailBoat visits the island weekly.
The island’s small population is also both a blessing and a curse for local businesses. With the current population hovering around 200, Mayaguana’s human capital leaves much to be desired, particularly at a management level. However, competition across virtually all industries remains minimal, making it easier for potential investors to stake their claim on the island.
With its natural beauty, minimal competition and growing support from international development agencies, Mayaguana presents a virgin market for those seeking new opportunities in the tourism and services industries.
Critically, Mayaguana offers prospects for both potential investors in medium-sized projects and entrepreneurs interested in launching their own small-scale tour companies.
Iris Charlton-DePass, a Mayaguana-based small business manager and chairperson of the local civic group, the Coalition for a Better Mayaguana, believes the island holds immense opportunities for those willing to put in the work.
“In order for Mayaguana to move to where it should be, there needs to be more local and outside investments that are carefully planned and marketed, more crucial assistance, and stricter management practices by the Government of the Bahamas,” she said.
“Mayaguana is ideal for entrepreneurs, in my view, because most business fields are untouched. Therefore, persons who wish to start up new businesses can do so without having to deal so much with competition... It is one of the unpolished gems of the southern Bahamas,” said Charlton-DePass.