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Alicia Wallace: Time For A Different Tune Than Our Brand Of One-Note Tourism

By ALICIA WALLACE

We watched another one bite the dust on Monday, over and over again. It instantly became a where-were-you-when moment. The videos and pictures seem endless and I imagine people return to them to experience the thrill, again, of what was once Crystal Palace crumbling before their eyes. It is not often we see demolitions in The Bahamas, so this was quite the spectacle. As the dust settles, many people are sharing memories of Crystal Palace, from teenage sleepovers to working night shifts. The demolition, as some have said, was the end of an era.

To say the Nassau Marriott Resort & Crystal Palace Casino was colourful would be putting it lightly. Some would call it gaudy. The Rainforest Theatre, perhaps designed to suit its name a bit too literally, was the site of many pageants and award shows. Seaside Buffet was a main attraction for large groups, especially after church services for Mother’s Day, christenings and the like. There were rooms and suites, a casino, event spaces, a pool and waterslide, restaurants and shops. How different is this from what has been developing before our eyes over the past few years?

While the building is gone, the old model of tourism it represented remains. We continue to construct monstrosities on or near the waterfront and fully expect the people to just come. Why wouldn’t they?

We’ve got beaches, we’ve got sun. We’ve got hundreds of hotel rooms and staff who may or may not speak to you in a forcibly American-sounding accent. You’ll feel right at home, except your entire environment will be fabricated based on the resort offerings that probably exist in your home country, designed to keep you on the compound. Won’t you come and, quite literally, stay with us? When it is all done, you can go home and tell your friends all about the version of The Bahamas you saw — partly because it was your choice and partly because that is what we sold you.

Everyone knows what Atlantis is and what it does for the Bahamian labour market and to the tourism industry. It is nuanced, pros and cons intermingling, but it is there to attract and serve a particular market. It has also found ways to capitalise on the cruise stop-over visitors with special packages. For people staying there, from restaurants and the casino to Marina Village and the water amenities, there’s almost no reason to leave, especially if you have not given any thought to all the other offerings an island or chain of islands may have.

Coming from a cruise, it is easy to spend every minute of port time wandering the property and enjoying paid amenities. This is not a mystery. It comes as no surprise. What is truly interesting is we are prepared to create another tourist island — a place for visitors to spend most, if not all, of their time and money. We have been propagating one-note tourism through our own singular view of The Bahamas. Someone said sun, sand and sea was the trio that deserved our focus and would pay off. There has not been enough focus on other potential draws to the islands of The Bahamas, especially outside of Nassau. It is difficult to determine whether failure to diversify the tourism industry is the reason for the excessive emphasis and dependence on hotels — and resorts in particular — we see today, or vice versa.

Crystal Palace has been taken down and the space it used to occupy will be filled by more of Baha Mar. “Family amenities” are soon to come. Baha Mar is quickly checking all of the boxes — rooms, dining, shopping, gambling, golfing, splashing. What makes us think this one is going to be different?

It is only going to be new for so long. What will be the draw after that? How will it compete with Atlantis, or are we thoroughly convinced that Baha Mar is successfully carving out its own, mutually exclusive market?

It is certainly worth thinking about the way we do tourism can support smaller hotels, especially those owned by Bahamians. It is undeniable we need to think about the concentration of tourist dollars within large resorts, and not in theatres, Bahamian-owned restaurants and takeaways, art galleries, tour companies, or gas stations. We cannot be willing to accept the smallest piece of the tourism pie for ever.

In 1983, the people involved in the Cable Beach Hotel saw no end. In 1988, when it was rebranded Crystal Palace, those involved had no end in sight. They saw beach front hotel property offering everything all the other hotels offer, all under the sun and a short flight away from Florida. What could be lacking?

It is, in some ways, quite troubling that viewing the demolition of Crystal Palace was such sport. By now, we should be thinking about our brand of tourism, as a system and a practice, in the same ways we look at Crystal Palace. There was a point to it, we have memories of it, but we need to take the decades of lessons and apply them to the next iteration which is imminent, if not already here. No one should have to force us to do this. No financial crisis or unexpected competition should We watched another one bite the dust on Monday, over and over again. It instantly became a where-were-you-when moment. The videos and pictures seem endless, and I imagine people return to them to experience the thrill, again, of what was once Crystal Palace crumbling before their eyes. It is not often that we see demolitions in The Bahamas, so this was quite the spectacle. As the dust settles, many people are sharing memories of Crystal Palace, from teenage sleepovers to working night shifts. The demolition, as some have said, was the end of an era.

We have been in this business for too long. We should have the gifts of insight and foresight by now. It would be great if we, in 30 years, do not watch another hotel lose its usefulness, disappear, and be replaced, but that is a very low bar.

We can do better than that. All it takes is the willingness to critique even the systems and activities that bring benefit, knowing they may not always do that work, and will not continue without human effort. Baha Mar could be Crystal Palace tomorrow, but it does not have to be that way.

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