By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
GRAND Bahama tourism chief Steven Johnson promises that “better days are ahead” for the island, revealing that cruise ships are now beginning to express interests in sailing here.
Without disclosing too many details, Mr Johnson said executives of a five-star cruise ship were in Freeport over a week ago. He did not want to reveal the name of the ship but indicated that it could mean an additional 800 passengers for Grand Bahama.
“I am happy to be a part of the Grand Bahama team for tourism,” he said. “It is a lot of work, but some good news is that we have cruise ships now calling us and saying, ‘listen I have a five-star cruise ship.’ Four executives came in (recently) looking at GB—we are talking about an additional 700 to 800 passengers in GB whenever they reopen.”
Mr Johnson, who was speaking at a Rotary Club of Grand Bahama meeting, encouraged people to stay tuned and keep their spirits up.
For almost 15 months, the cruise industry has been shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but cruise lines are expected to begin sailing again in June.
Mr Johnson noted that Grand Bahama’s cruise industry started to rebound before the global coronavirus pandemic that hit in March 2020. In February 2020, he noted that some 68,675-day cruisers came to Grand Bahama that month.
“Our friend COVID knocked on the door and we went down to 22,000 in March 2020, and then zero from here on out. But there is opportunity here and we are going to bring it out. We are going to promote GB differently from our grandparents and our parents and really push (the island) further on the international map.”
He assured that things are happening in tourism on Grand Bahama, particularly in the eco-tourism sector.
He said: “The eco-experience is really what is paying the bills right now. A lot of people say that nothing is going on in tourism, but you need to see the number of people coming on a daily basis. Right now, we get about 200 people coming to GB between domestic and private aviation.
“If you go out to the airport you will see private Lear jets parked up, so GB seems to be a big attraction. Two weeks ago, we had Rick Ross, ‘The Boss’, who decided he wanted to come to GB. So, GB has brand loyalty throughout the world.”
Mr Johnson admits that some things need fixing in Freeport, such as the International Bazaar and the airport.
“I think we have some good things going on. I came and looked around and I am not afraid to tell the minister and people what’s wrong with GB—old buildings, old products—and these are all fixable things, and I understand there are a whole lot of investment opportunities on the table.
“I drive through the (International) Bazaar every day before I go to the office and I also drive to the airport every day and I just stare, and I say we have to fix this,” he said.
Mr Johnson believes that a new airport needs to be rebuilt with a standard.
“When you look at what they do throughout the world, airports are built to the water. So, when you build this airport back, build it higher than it is right now like Nassau but build it around a dam so when anything comes close to it from Queens Cove or wherever it comes from, it goes in a dam,” he said.
He said that the airport is in a perfect position across the street.
In terms of activities on Grand Bahama, Mr Johnson said that Smith’s Point will be positioned to see daily business from cruise ships.
“We are already positioning Smith’s Point where you are going to see the cruise ships come in and see daily business (there).”
Mr Johnson said they have spoken with the families about a concept that is focused around the late matriarch Mama Flo, a well-known resident and businesswoman of Smith’s Point. He said plans also include creating a ‘Taste of Smith’s Point’ where tourists are involved in making conch fritters and gully wash, a local drink.
He also stated that brandings also will be established for West End and East End.
West End will be known as the official conch and seafood capital of Grand Bahama, he said.
“We will bring people in like the Food Network and we tell the story of GB. In the East End, we want to make it the stew fish and boiled fish capital where you get up on Saturday and Sunday for fresh oven-baked bread and cassava bread, and we will put a stamp on ‘chicken in the bag’, with 10 to 15 locations in the Eight Mile Rock area.
“We are trying to create standards where they will see the seal of approval, which means they have been to Bahamahost for training in customer service, and they cleaned up their business. We are making that happen right now. And those are some of the things we will do. While the ‘chicken in the bag’ was created in Nassau, we will own it in GB.”
Mr Johnson said Freeport will be recognised as the foodie capital as a result of the various restaurants.
“What you are really going to see in GB is a new change, a facelift so our grandparents’ GB and our parents’ GB is no longer. You are going to see... us targeting people with an income of about $75,000 and up, but we saw a shift to generation X, Y, and Z and the millennials. We are seeing a big shift in GB. I know it is hard to tell people that things are happening, but things are really happening here,” he said.