As Cruises Return to The Bahamas, We Must Rethink Our Relationship with Tourism

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For the past year, the catamarans, pleasure yachts and cruise ships that usually frequent the glassy blue waters of The Bahamas were nowhere to be seen. The once-packed beaches, humming with throws of holidaymakers, stood eerily still. And restaurants, cafes and bars struggled to fill tables.

For the past year, the catamarans, pleasure yachts and cruise ships that usually frequent the glassy blue waters of The Bahamas were nowhere to be seen. The once-packed beaches, humming with throws of holidaymakers, stood eerily still. And restaurants, cafes and bars struggled to fill tables.

The first to set sail was The Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas, completing its inaugural homeporting ceremony in Grand Bahama Island with around 1000 passengers. Several more expeditions are planned, with 11 Royal Caribbean ships resuming cruises from the US and Europe in July and August.

The return of cruising marks a pivotal moment for the local economy, heralded as a critical step towards reinvigorating The Bahamas’ tourism industry.

As many are painfully aware, the steep decline in global tourism that accompanied international lockdown restrictions hit airlines, hotels, and hospitality workers worldwide. But the effects were felt most acutely in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as The Bahamas, where tourism serves as a key driver for economic development.

Indeed, in The Bahamas, tourism accounts for 60% of the country’s GDP and employs, directly or indirectly, approximately half of The Bahamas’ workforce. Considering the reliance of the Bahamian economy on tourism, the dramatic shutdown of international travel in the Spring of 2020 had grave consequences for the country. Over the past year, The Bahamas faced an estimated economic contraction of 16.2%, as businesses closed their doors and unemployment soared.

‘To not have visitors arriving for any period of time, but particularly for an extended period of time, has brought immense hardship to a number of people throughout the Caribbean,’ said the former head of the Caribbean Tourism Office Hugh Riley. After what has been a particularly challenging year, the return of cruises to The Bahamas’ sugar-sand shores brings relief to many. But will cruises bring long-term economic development to the region?

As a cruise ship docks and thousands disembark, the impression of prosperity is often illusionary. This is because cruise lines have complete control of the discretionary dollars their passengers spend on-land. As Noel Mignott, a former deputy director of tourism for Jamaica explains, ‘Everything that can be sold on board is already sold, and any place on the island that could benefit has already made arrangement with the cruise company’.

Besides the limited benefit cruise ships can bring to local communities, the experience of the pandemic has taught The Bahamas the dangers of overreliance on tourism. Therefore, to lay the foundations for a stronger, more resilient economy in the long-term, we need to take active steps to diversify away from the tourism industry.

The first step will be to invest in education. This is because investment in this sphere can impact the most meaningful change by fostering ambition, higher levels of entrepreneurship, and increased productivity. In turn, this will lead to greater prosperity and financial stability in the future. The transformative power of education is the impetus for why, as part of The Fox Foundation, I have set up scholarships for high-achieving students from under-privileged backgrounds and provided bursaries and technological equipment for schools across The Bahamas. Over the course of six years of service, The Fox Foundation has donated over $5 million towards funding education projects, as well as providing support for youth development, community building, and disaster and post pandemic relief.

The first step will be to invest in education. This is because investment in this sphere can impact the most meaningful change by fostering ambition, higher levels of entrepreneurship, and increased productivity. In turn, this will lead to greater prosperity and financial stability in the future. The transformative power of education is the impetus for why, as part of The Fox Foundation, I have set up scholarships for high-achieving students from under-privileged backgrounds and provided bursaries and technological equipment for schools across The Bahamas. Over the course of six years of service, The Fox Foundation has donated over $5 million towards funding education projects, as well as providing support for youth development, community building, and disaster and post pandemic relief.

As The Bahamas emerges from the shadows of the Covid crisis, we have the opportunity to rethink our relationship with tourism. While it is clear tourism will play a central role in our local economy for years to come, to safeguard ourselves from the economic shocks that have plagued this country over the past year, we need to prioritise diversifying our economy away from the tourism sector to give rise to long-term growth.

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