With news still pouring in of the unimaginable devastation Hurricane Dorian wrought on tourism-dependent Grand Bahama and the adjacent Abacos Islands and the harrowing stories of the now homeless survivors, many are wondering how they can best help the grieving nation that comprises 700 islands and thousands of cays dotting more than 259,000 square kilometres of the West Atlantic between Florida and Cuba.
Although it seems counter-intuitive, insensitive or just plain wrong, the best thing we can do for the country is to visit the unaffected Islands of The Bahamas, implores the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation.
A Category 5 hurricane (and similar major natural disasters) not only inflicts catastrophic damage to life and infrastructure, it can rapidly decimate a tourism-based economy like that of the Bahamas — where tourism brings in 60 per cent of the GDP — and, therefore, the people for months to years to come, long after the disaster itself fades from the news.
“Maintaining a robust tourism industry will be vital in helping the country to recover and rebuild,” says Dionisio D’Aguilar, Bahamas Minister of Tourism & Aviation. “We are grateful for the outpouring of support and love for our islands, and we would like everyone to know that the best thing they can do for us right now is visit Nassau, Paradise Island and the Out Islands. Our beautiful island nation is ready to welcome you.”
Paul Strachan, senior director of the Bahamas Tourist Office in Toronto stresses the first priority is “continuing to fully support and provide assistance to our fellow Bahamians who were impacted by the storm.”
From a tourism perspective, the ministry was fast to launch a consumer awareness campaign in the hope of preventing a free fall in cancellations of pre-Dorian cruise and land bookings to the non-impacted islands and to spur more vacationers to come, now and in the upcoming winter high season. The first half of this year saw a nine per cent increase in international arrivals and, pre-Dorian, it was looking like it may be a record-breaking year.
The challenging issue now is one of geography, explains Strachan. “There is some confusion due to lack of knowledge related to our multi-island composition. As such, most people believe that the entire destination is completely devastated.”
Media reports and other communications naming “The Bahamas” without specifying the impacted islands adds to the misperception. There could be a tropical storm or hurricane in one part of the country while other parts remain unaffected, as with Hurricane Dorian. It struck the archipelago’s northernmost islands: Grand Bahama (home to Freeport, The Bahamas’ second largest city) and the adjacent Abacos Islands (a chain of islands and barrier cays headed by Great Abaco).
The new tourism campaign reassures travellers 14 of the most visited islands — including most popular Paradise and New Providence, which are connected by bridge and are home to mega-resort Atlantis on Paradise Island and the bustling capital of Nassau on New Providence — were not impacted by the storm. Just a hop, skip and jump by plane from Nassau, the Out Islands in the top-14 include: The Exumas, Eleuthera and Harbour Island, Bimini, Andros, the Berry Islands, Cat Island, Long Island, San Salvador, Acklins and Crooked Island, Rum Cay, and Mayaguana and Inagua.
The campaign further assures that the warm Bahamian people and the islands’ hotel and travel partners are ready to welcome visitors with open arms. Airports, hotels and attractions are fully operational (with the exception of the Dorian-devastated islands and Ragged Island, which suffered a direct hit from Hurricane Irma in 2017). Certain hotels annually close for business in the fall, especially in the Out Islands, Strachan adds, advising that if this is the case, the reopening date will be noted on the property’s website (usually in October). Together, the islands open to tourism house 81 per cent of The Bahamas’ hotel rooms.
In addition, Grand Bahama's port reopened shortly after the hurricane. After receiving the approval of the Ministry of Tourism, Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line was the first to bring leisure travellers back to the island, resuming its two-night round-trip sailings from Palm Beach, Florida, to Freeport on Sept. 27. Interested passengers can book a volunteer excursion to help with the island’s rebuilding effort. Since Dorian, the cruise company has been transporting aid workers and supplies, as well as displaced Bahamians.
“Tourism is the most important industry in the Bahamas, and we all know the lifeline it brings to residents across the islands,” says CEO Oneil Khosa. "While we remain focused on providing aid to our friends and family on Grand Bahama, we also know that returning to a traditional sailing schedule will make an incredibly positive impact on their economy.”
Cruise fares start at $109 per person, with 50 percent off the second guest for all sailings this fall. The company will also begin inaugural sailings to Nassau Oct. 12.
Enrico Garzaroli, owner of the Graycliff Hotel & Restaurant in Nassau, confirms a lot of people are cancelling or postponing trips because they think the entire Bahamas has been wiped out. “Tourism is our number one industry; without tourists we won’t survive,” he explains. “This is not the time to shy away, this is the time to visit, it will help our country provide the support to our fellow Bahamians in Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands who were not as lucky.”
To sweeten the pot, some hotels and resorts are announcing deals and incentives to soon visit, like Garzaroli’s Graycliff Hotel (30 per cent off until Dec. 20, when booked by Oct. 31; graycliff.com/seasonal-specials) and Breezes Resort & Spa Bahamas (40 to 53 per cent off all-inclusive rates — from $140 USD per person/night — for bookings by Sept. 30 on select dates through Dec. 18; breezes.com/fall-sale-2019.html). Garzaroli suggests visitors start in Nassau and then visit one or more of the Out Islands like Inagua, where the Bahamas’ national bird, the West Indian Flamingo, lives.
Jessica Robertson, PR manager for Blue Lagoon Island, home of Dolphin Encounters, a multi-activity day attraction near Paradise Island, says their team is hard-working to ensure guests have a wonderful experience. “We are grateful more than ever for each person that chooses to vacation in the Bahamas and, specifically, our piece of paradise.”
If you are feeling uneasy about visiting, it may help to know that many of the hotels and resorts, as well as cruise lines, airlines and other players in the travel and tourism industry are greatly supporting relief efforts, transporting aid workers and supplies, making significant cash and goods donations and raising funds. Some, like Baha Mar (a mega-resort complex that includes luxury hotel brands the Grand Hyatt, Rosewood and SLS), are inviting guests to participate. Baha Mar’s “Pack With Love” campaign asks guests to support the victims by gifting items of comfort to instil a bit of calm and security.
For those who can’t take a trip, you can help by donating to a reputable relief organization or other fundraising causes (check them out to ensure they are legitimate). For monetary donations, a list of trusted partners vetted by the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency is at bahamas.com/relief. Due to the cost and logistics of transporting supplies, drop-off locations for goods are only in Ontario (also on above link).
“We welcome all donations and appreciate everyone’s efforts,” says Strachan.
More voluntourism and volunteer opportunities will emerge in the next phase of restoration efforts. Check the relief website above or with your preferred tour operator, cruise line, hotel, or relief organization.
Strachan says that Montreal is the second-most important Canadian market. Air Canada is increasing non-stop service from Montreal to Nassau from twice to four times a week beginning Dec. 20.
If you go:
At bahamas.com learn about the unique characteristics of each Bahamian island and use the interactive Island Finder (bahamas.triptuner.com/islandfinder/en) to discover the best island(s) for you. Then check out the “Deals” tab.
- Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board — nassauparadiseisland.com
- Bahama Out Islands Promotion Board — myoutislands.com/bahamas-vacation-packages.