Interview with Bahamas Tourism Minister Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace
The Hon. Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace is the Bahamas’ Minister of Tourism and Aviation. After a global financial crisis that hit the tourism industry, and the Caribbean, rather severely, Vanderpool Wallace has moved to bring the Bahamas’ integral tourism sector forward. He told Caribbean Journal about the current state of the country’s tourism, the impact of NCAA college basketball games held at Atlantis and where he sees the industry in five years.
What is the current state of tourism in the Bahamas?
Despite the challenges of the past few years in the tourism sector, we ended 2010 with some encouraging news. We confirmed that we welcomed the largest number of visitors ever to our shores last year. The final numbers are in, verifying that we had almost 5.25 million guests. This means that The Islands Of The Bahamas recorded a 13 percent increase in visitors in 2010 over the number of visitors received in 2009.
How have the last few years been for Bahamas tourism?
As the overall world economy has struggled over the past few years, like other tourism destinations, The Bahamas has had to continue to work hard to attract increasing numbers of guests. Rather than focus on the things that are beyond control, we have embraced the realities of world conditions as an opportunity to prepare our country, with emphasis on Nassau initially, to be able to take full advantage of travel and leisure when the overall world economy improves. As a result, Nassau is experiencing an infrastructural transformation. Nassau Harbour underwent a $44 million development last year that resulted in deepening and widening the harbour to accommodate the world’s largest cruise vessels. Now, Nassau sees calls from the two largest cruise vessels – Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Allure of the Seas.
What other projects are going on in that regard?
Meanwhile, we have embarked on the re-development of our international airport in Nassau – the single-largest public sector infrastructural project in our history. The redevelopment of Lynden Pindling International Airport began in 2010, and by the time it is completed in 2013, it is expected that we will have a new airport with approximately $409.5 million invested. We were pleased on February 25 of this year to observe the official opening ceremony for phase one of this project – our new U.S. Departure Terminal. We are enhancing the quality of public roads through the investment of $119 million in a road improvement project for Nassau. In addition, a new four-lane highway is being constructed at the international airport in Nassau, leading into commercial and residential areas. When we also consider that the largest private sector development in our history, the multi-billion-dollar development of Baha Mar Resorts, just got underway, the situation strongly suggests we have some good days ahead.
What trends have you been seeing?
Cruise arrivals were the largest contributor to the increased number of arrivals. As more than 3.95 million cruise passengers were welcomed to the country, The Islands Of The Bahamas registered a 16.5 percent increase in cruise passenger arrivals in 2010. In addition, the 3.4 percent increase in air arrivals was driven largely by the remarkably successful “Companion Fly Free” program. This innovative promotion effectively lowered the cost of airfare to the country for visitors, and delivered more than 87,000 bookings that represented more than 414,000 room nights. Although our Companion Fly Free offer has already run its course, we still are offering a “Two Fly Free” deal from Nassau/Paradise Island to our other islands.
What kind of impact do you think the decision to hold NCAA collegiate basketball games at Atlantis yearly will have?
The move to host NCAA tournaments at Atlantis is a good move for the resort and all of Nassau/Paradise Island. Atlantis has assured us that college teams have expressed great interest in playing at the tournaments on Paradise Island. In the past, sporting events have attracted not only teams, but also the individuals and groups who support them. We anticipate that these tournaments will bring top teams to Nassau/Paradise Island as well as other students, parents and other supporters. The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation has a Sports Tourism Unit that works to develop these kinds of events, and we hope that there will be even more sporting events taking place in Nassau. Our new national stadium will encourage these types of events. The first phase of the stadium will be completed this year.
What are the strongest signs right now for Bahamian tourism?
The strongest signs in tourism right now are the positive indications that economies are recovering. As conditions improve, more traveling will result. In addition, the Baha Mar project has secured financing for its tremendous resort, which signals a new era in Bahamian tourism.
Where do you see Bahamian tourism in five years?
If all goes according to plan, we expect that we will be reaping rich rewards in five years for the seeds that we are sowing now in infrastructure and training for Bahamians. Additionally, we would have advanced in the development of the islands and island groups outside of Nassau/Paradise Island. While this country is extremely successful as a tourism region, Nassau/Paradise Island receives the majority of our visitors. However, Nassau/Paradise Island comprises less than two percent of the land mass of The Islands Of The Bahamas. There are 15 other major islands and island groups that we will develop to host increasing numbers of visitors.