By DIANE PHILLIPS
It began with a thin piece of paper that fell out of an old folder. I can’t explain why I kept it for more than 40 years or why I kept any of the stuff in that folder, for that matter. Instinct, maybe, but back to the slip of paper. It was a small 4.5”x 8.5” flyer, now yellowed with age, with the name and photograph of Earl Nightingale, the legendary author and radio personality who ruled the airwaves in the 1950s and ‘60s.
The flyer was a reprint of his radio broadcast #4376. It was called A PIECE OF PARADISE. “If you pay close attention today, you will learn about one of the most beautiful and enjoyable places on planet Earth to spend a holiday, a vacation, a month… or the rest of your life…” the broadcast began. In a deep, booming voice that projected authority even if only based on opinion, radio’s #1 personality went on to extol the virtues of The Bahamas, particularly Romora Bay in Harbour Island, beseeching the world to come for a visit.
“I had made a speech in Nassau on Friday evening and having heard of Harbour Island and Romora Bay Club, I came for the weekend with my 12-year-old son,” he continues. The man whose voice and words were a magnet for millions ever day describes Harbour Island experiences -- “scuba diving among the reefs, snorkelling, deep-sea fishing, small uninhabited islands where you can be dropped off in the morning with a lunch basket and a bottle of wine and be picked up in the evening.” He talks of sweet-smelling jasmine, friendly people, a tropical paradise year-round that he says “is too good to be true”.
Romora Bay is still there, or more accurately, still here, a half hour flight away to North Eleuthera, then a ferry hop to Harbour Island, yet given a choice as to where we want to travel, Bahamians largely prefer Walmart. I called the resort to make sure I was not just making this up. Sadly, it’s true. About 85 percent of Romora Bay’s visitors are foreign, 15 percent local, even though locals pay $100 a night less than those from abroad during a Bahamian residents’ special.
What is it that makes us eager travellers, armed with a passport before we crawl, except when it comes to visiting the place others all over the world save their money for years to visit, our own back yard? Why do others covet Eleuthera and we covet Target? Why do strangers travel from around the globe to swim with the pigs in Exuma and we prefer to dodge traffic on I-95?
With borders opening and closing, the Ministry of Tourism and Out Island Promotion Board are trying harder than ever to promote domestic tourism. They’ve worked with hoteliers to create deals, including ‘two fly free’. Maybe we need to put a mini Home Depot on Andros or offer pent-up shoppers’ instant relief from lack of ability to spend tablets.
In other countries, domestic tourism is a major economic driver. In the US, where Alaskan cruises were the surprising winner of ‘biggest draw from Americans’, domestic tourism generated $933 billion in 2018 and supported 7.7 million jobs. Alaska, by the way, was followed by Orlando, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Miami and New York. That same year, domestic tourism worldwide accounted for 73 percent of all tourism and travel spending, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
In countries like India and South Africa where the land, views and experiences vary greatly from one region to the next, most citizens and residents rarely travel outside their home country.
It’s true that travel within The Bahamas has picked up since the COVID pandemic. I think domestic tourism could be the most productive contagion brought about by the pandemic. The more we experience of The Bahamas, the more we appreciate the wonders that radio personality Earl Nightingale saw a half century ago. As for me, I’d gladly trade a week in a mall for a night at Grand Isle Villas in Emerald Bay, Exuma where I can stroll the miles-long beach at the break of dawn without seeing another footprint or sip a cocktail and watch the sun set from upstairs or downstairs balconies in my luxurious villa, jump in the infinity pool, take out a kayak and return it when I want, or book a massage in the spa open now by appointment only. Excuse me, I am going to close my eyes and pretend to be at Grand Isle now. Hope to see you somewhere this summer in The Bahamas.
And more of those bizarre street names
How would you like to tell the man whose trust you are trying to build to visit you on Goose Street or the woman who has given years to volunteering at PMH as part of the Candy Stripers that they named a street in honour of people like her but they called it Candy Stripper Road? Keep your eyes peeled and I will, too.
Just for the fun of it
Back to those Romora Bay fliers. Maybe I saved them because I wanted to go there one day (think I finally made it in the early 2000s before it gained fame as the site where the Barefoot Bandit was caught).
What was interesting was the rate sheet. A deluxe room double occupancy in the 1985-86 high season (December-April) was $146 on the European plan. Today, for Bahamian citizens and residents during the summer special it’s $200. Ironically, given the rate of inflation and the value of today’s dollar, if Romora Bay is any example, travel within The Bahamas has gotten cheaper over the years and the choices with boutique and small resorts, bonefish lodges, all-inclusive properties and Airbnb’s have exploded.
No, no one put me up to this – I just think when it comes to travel, and when you live in The Bahamas, there’s no place like home where people speak your language and you always know someone in the family and you are fortunate enough to get to where the rest of the world wants to go without putting on anything heavier than a cover on your cell phone.