By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
TOURISM officials have seen a “fall off” in vacation bookings for the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian and are projecting a nine percent decrease in visitor arrivals this year.
According to Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar yesterday, this has been a drawback of the monster storm despite a vigorous public relations push encouraging tourists to visit islands apart from storm-ravaged Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Negative public relations, Mr D’Aguilar said, had mainly caused many to rethink coming to the country.
“Oh, absolutely, there has been a lot of negative public relations about The Bahamas being destroyed,” the minister said yesterday when he was asked by The Tribune if tourism numbers were affected in the aftermath of Dorian.
“Obviously people are concerned when booking their holidays that they’re going to come to a country that’s been destroyed and decimated.
“Even though we’ve been trying to get the message out that that is not the case and only two islands have been impacted. We’ve definitely seen a fall off in our bookings.”
He continued: “If you look out through the end of the year, we’re projecting just under a 10 percent decrease this year over last year and that’s for two reasons: first of all the negative public relations about The Bahamas, but secondly as you can imagine we don’t have Abaco and Grand Bahama in our inventory anymore.
“They represented about 12 percent of our stopover visitors last year and so with them being out of commission you’re naturally going to see a decrease.
“So our decrease is around nine percent as opposed to the full 12 percent and so we’re a little encouraged by that.
“By early next year we’re seeing a bit of a rebound. That’s the nature of tourism, it’s very resilient. It’s subject to a lot of shocks – hurricanes, travel advisories but short-term memory is very short and it bounces back so we’re expecting that to happen.”
Officials have been trying to get ahead of the bad publicity, he said.
“We’re very active out in the market getting the message out.
“Just last week I spent four hours on television stations in the United States just going from one city to another city on prime time slots in major cities getting the message out that The Bahamas is open for business, (saying) ‘continue to book your holiday and the best way to help The Bahamas is to visit The Bahamas given our dependency on tourism.’”
Asked if the ministry could afford to ramp up its public relations, Mr D’Aguilar said: “I think what we’ve done is we’ve brought our spend forward. Obviously we had it mapped out over the year but given the urgency of the situation and given the fact that we really wanted to get the message out there that we were open to business, we brought forward a bit of our spend in order to get the message out so we’ll see, we’ll adjust. You know how budgets are you adjust here and there.”
The minister was also asked whether Grand Lucayan negotiations had been delayed.
He said they were initially pushed back by about four to six weeks, but were currently back on track, adding he remained very optimistic about the outcome.
“As we get down to the crunch line, we look over the terms of the arrangement, as we look over the heads of agreement it becomes very intense.
“A lot of meetings go on and then ultimately it comes up to the ministers and ultimately for the Cabinet to approve so understand certainly at the technical level the negotiations are going very well and then the policy and decisions will be brought to Cabinet and we’ll make a decision on that. But we’re very anxious for this to happen so I remain very optimistic,” he told The Tribune.