A Simms II,
BCCEC director, Family Island
Tourism and rentals
With a picturesque blend of hills, blue holes and secluded beaches, Long Island has much room for growth in the tourism sector via Bahamian and international investors. Luxury rental properties offer an exciting way for both local and international investors to get involved in the tourism market. Long Island hotels are currently facing stiff competition from the second home rental industry, which is unregulated. However, the Ministry of Tourism (MOT) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOu) with the leading online short-term rental service, Airbnb, in August, aimed at eventually introducing standards and some form of taxation to the sector, though the exact details remain to be seen.
The Bahamas currently has nearly 2,000 rental listings on Airbnb alone, with guest arrivals nearly doubling over the past year. The MOT hopes that regulating the vacation rental sector will provide a 'level playing field' for rentals and traditional resort accommodations, introduce standards, and promote greater diversity in the types and costs of local accommodations available to visitors, thus increasing tourism revenues across the board.
Long Island is home to several prime eco-tourism attractions, including the Deadman's Cay caves and Conception Island National Park, which contains pristine beaches, birdwatching opportunities and turtle breeding sites. Dean's Blue Hole, the second deepest blue hole on earth, also remains one of Long Island's most enduring attractions. The island's yachting sector has long been a crucial component of the economy, with a small collection of commercial marinas still performing well for the high season, which last roughly six months of the year.
Expanding the island's airports is likely the first step to stimulating Long Island's economy. The island's two existing airports, located at Deadman's Cay and Stella Maris, are currently unable to accommodate international flights, requiring visitors to stopover in Nassau before taking connecting flights to Long Island.
This has resulted in many tourists opting to visit nearby Exuma or other islands, largely because of the convenience of direct flights from the US. This, in turn, has adversely impacted Long Island's real estate market. In a time when modern tourists expect convenience, Long Island can ill-afford to maintain its current airlift strategy.
Upgrading one of the island's two existing airports to an international airport would likely reverse these negative trends, though there has been debate over which facility is the best candidate. Long Island's current tourism market is largely concentrated in the northern and southern tips of the island, with the Stella Maris and Cape Santa Maria resorts in the north acting as two of the island's largest employers and most resilient properties.
However, the Deadman's Cay airport in central Long Island is perhaps a stronger candidate for an upgrade due to limited room for expansion at the Stella Maris Airport. Airlines will ultimately be responsible for making a business decision to supply the northern or central airports, making it critically important that tourism stakeholders promote affordable transportation services for visitors travelling to the under-serviced portion of Long Island.
Flats fishing, another crucial component of the Long Island tourism economy, could also benefit greatly from relatively simple improvements. Recently-implemented flats fishing legislation introduced tighter regulations on anglers, including new required fishing permits. However, there is still no online avenue for purchasing fishing permits, meaning that visitors or their fishing guides must often take upwards of a 40-minute drive each time they wish to pick up a license from the Administrator's Office.
In an era where Bahamian flats fishing guides are losing repeat business to rival jurisdictions, including Cuba and Belize, offering guests an online 'one-stop shop' for purchasing permits and guide services could breathe new life into the industry, and provide new guide opportunities for young Bahamian anglers.
An Island in Recovery
It is impossible to discuss plans for revitalising Long Island's economy without addressing Hurricane Joaquin's lasting impact on the island. Many residents and business owners believe that the island's community and infrastructure are still recovering from the 2015 storm, which devastated much of the central and southern Bahamas. Small-scale agriculture, which has remained an important sector of the island's economy despite the relatively small amount of arable land and low rainfall, is now struggling in the wake of more frequent, powerful hurricanes.
The island's population stood at just over 3,000 as of the latest census in 2010, but has dropped following Hurricane Joaquin. Brain-drain and an aging population are also problematic. With that in mind, the Government could explore tax breaks and other development incentives to entice investors and create jobs for young Bahamians.
Long Island's infrastructure challenges are not limited to its airports. Even accessing basic utilities such as potable water is a challenge for some communities on the island. Residents and businesspersons in Salt Pond, which hosts the island's hugely popular regatta each year, have long lobbied the government to provide the settlement with a reliable water supply. These water supply issues have forced many locals to strip out all non-essential businesses and amenities, with resorts and restaurants all relying on their own cisterns.
Alleviating the area's water shortages could result in a host of new entrepreneurial opportunities for investors and businesspersons through ventures including laundromats, ice vendors or car washes. The spin-off benefits from these infrastructure improvements could greatly offset the cost to the Bahamian taxpayer, particularly if the current administration follows through on proposed overhauls to the bidding process for public works.