THE tourism industry's contribution to Bahamian GDP is forecast to grow by 3.4 per cent to $1.784 billion in 2018, as the sector shrugs off the impact of recent hurricanes.
Tourism's benefits were discussed at last week's 63rd regional meeting of the United Nations's World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), for which the Bahamas' minister of tourism and aviation, Dionisio D'Aguilar, is the chairman.
The Minister was represented at the meeting in Asunción, Paraguay, by Joy Jibrilu, the Ministry of Tourism's director-general. It was attended by 16 ministers of tourism from countries including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Jamaica.
Ms Jibrilu also represented the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at a press conference held by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) to discuss the impact of hurricanes on the Caribbean region.
The WTTC is estimating that travel and tourism's direct contribution to Bahamian GDP in 2017 was $1.726 million or 19 per cent of total economic output. This figure is forecast to rise by 3.4 per cent to $1.784 billion in 2018.
"This primarily reflects the economic activity generated by industries such as hotels, travel agents, airlines and other passenger transportation services excluding commuter services.
"But it also includes, for example, the activities of the restaurant and leisure industries directly supported by tourists," the WTTC reported.
Studies from Tourism Economics, an Oxford University subsidiary, show that travel and tourism is one of the most important economic sectors in the Caribbean, contributing 15.2 per cent of the Caribbean's GDP and 13.8 per cent of its employment.
However, in around half the countries analysed, the sector accounts for over 25 per cent of GDP - more than double the world average of 10.4 per cent.
The analysis showed that, in 2016, 46.7 million persons visited the Caribbean with a spend of $31.4 billion, supporting 2.4 million jobs.
Meanwhile, WTTC officials said the 2017 hurricane season resulted in an estimated loss of 826,100 visitors, who would have generated $714 million in economic activity and supported 11,005 jobs throughout the Caribbean.
WTTC officials believe it ultimately caused the Caribbean a $3 billion loss.
"Quantifying the impact on travel and tourism post-crisis provides a level of understanding of the enormous economic contribution that the sector brings to the region and the impetus for recovery," the report said.
"Natural disasters will continue to hit the Caribbean, perhaps on an increasingly frequent basis as a result of climate change. As the economies of islands grow ever more reliant on the sector, it is critical that governments and destination management organisations develop strategies to minimise the long-term impact of natural disasters and encourage visitor spending to return to pre-hurricane levels of growth."
Ms Jibrilu added: "The events of last fall were tragic for so many across our Caribbean region, and our thoughts are still very much with the countries, businesses and families that are rebuilding their lives now.
"The best, most effective way to support this endeavour is for all of us to work together. This partnership must bring together public and private entities in our countries and region, and we must also be mindful that the progress of one country will tend to benefit our marketplace position as a region."