Bahamas on a record-breaking pace for tourism. But can it last?

Omar Perez

This year is shaping up to be a busy one for the Bahamas, and if visitor forecasts hold, year-end figures for 2023 will break the destination’s record-setting 2019 tourism year.

With increased air service, a multimillion-dollar port renovation and recent and scheduled resort openings, the Bahamas anticipates close to 8 million visitors this year, based on data from the first quarter. The Bahamas welcomed some 7.2 million visitors in 2019, despite Hurricane Dorian, which ravaged parts of the Bahamas.

During Q1, the Bahamas reported 637,345 air arrivals, up 33.7% from 2022. And with JetBlue adding weekly, nonstop service from Los Angeles in November and Alaska Airlines debuting winter nonstops from Los Angeles and Seattle in December, those numbers are bound to increase.

Air arrival figures, however, pale in comparison to cruise arrivals, which totaled some 2.8 million during the first quarter. Nassau Cruise Port officials expect 4.2 million passengers this year, which would eclipse the record of 3.9 million who came ashore in 2019. They expect that number to be even higher, 4.5 million, next year.

21st century cruise port

Nassau Cruise Port recently went through a three-year renovation to the tune of more than $300 million and debuted May 26. The port was updated from a rustic, aging facility to one that is not only modernized and can accommodate larger ships but offers a taste of Bahamian culture with the Museum of Junkanoo and locally owned shops offering authentic eats and goods.

“This [port] is a critical part of our tourism industry,” said Mike Maura Jr., CEO and director of Nassau Cruise Port. “This project is also serving as the catalyst for Nassau.”

In conjunction with the port renovation, the Bahamian government instituted a tourism development fund geared to clean up surrounding areas around Bay Street, including knocking down aging and damaged buildings and improving existing infrastructure such as roads and sidewalks. Those projects would be funded by a tax hike on cruise passengers.

“That is one of the concerns that visitors have who have just left this fantastic, brand new facility and ask, ‘What did I just step into?’ Maura said.

(The cruise tax hike originally was scheduled to go into effect this month, but
the Bahamas government postponed it until January after concerns were
raised by the cruise lines, according to Bahamian media reports.)

Helping to accommodate the anticipated increase in tourists is the number of new resorts opening in Nassau this year, including the Goldwynn Resort & Residences. The 100-year-old British Colonial Hotel closed last year but has since changed hands and is being renovated; a reopening is expected later this year. And next year will see the opening of other resorts, including Montage Cay on Abaco.

Roadblocks ahead?

Still, that may not satisfy client demand, at least for the short-term. In March, Robert Sands, president of the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association, told Tribune Business that it may take 12 to 18 months to meet booking demand, not just because of higher demand but because 15% to 20% of accommodations are not availablefor various reasons, including ongoing renovations.

“The demand for the destination is outpacing our ability to provide supply at the moment. It’s testament to the fact that the Bahamas as a destination is very much in demand, and that’s a major incentive for further investors to invest in hospitality in the islands of the Bahamas,” Sands told Tribune Business.

As for the number of visitors, Joy Jibrilu, CEO of the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board, said she hasn’t seen a slowdown, despite economists’ predictions about the economy.

“There is this conversation about recession,” Jibrilu said. “But this is eight, nine months that we’ve been on this trajectory, and there is no sign [of recession]. If you look at our bookings through December, we’re surpassing even our record year of 2019. It makes it very challenging to plan for when the bubble will burst.”

Also making tourism predictions difficult is the recent trend of shorter booking windows, often as close in as 30 days.

“Everyone thought at some point there would be some sort of leveling off [of the booking windows], but that’s not happening,” Jibrilu said.

Source: Read Full Article