Tourism Holds Hope For Bahamas Economic Recovery

The immediate growth of the Bahamian economy rests with the Ministry of Tourism's ability to fill airplane seats and bring stopover visitors back to these shores en masse, the minister of state for finance said yesterday, meaning group business will have to be revived as soon as possible.

Zhivargo Laing, during his 2009-2010 mid-year Budget statement, said group travel will have to be incentivised in order to restore this crucial business for the Bahamas.

When economies fell into recession following the financial crisis in the US, and large financial firms were lambasted by the US government for lavish group travel despite borrowing from public the purse, many scaled back on business retreats to places like the Bahamas.

Resorts such as Atlantis rely on constant group business to fill rooms. Its president, George Markantonis, told Tribune Business recently that the resort is not expected to recoup its group business until 2011, though he did not rule out the possibility for last minute bookings this year. "They do book in the year for the year," he said.

Mr Laing said the Ministry of Tourism had extended its free companion airfare programme to groups in order to attract businesses back to the Bahamas.

Because the immediate turnaround in the economy depends on tourism's ability to bring high spending guests back to the islands' resorts and hotels, the free companion airfare for groups seeks to bring the most people in bulk.

According to Mr Laing, positive signs of a turnaround in this country's tourism economy came from last year's peak business from Canada and an available 400,000 extra air seats flying direct to these islands.

He said the tourism business has been "trending in the right direction year-over-year in terms of air arrivals".

The minister suggested the medium-term plan for the Bahamas economic recovery entails improvement in the business climate, the diversification of investors within tourism and financial services (the country's two highest revenue earners), exploiting opportunities in international insurance and arbitration and promoting Grand Bahama's potential more fully, among others.

The long-term plan includes focus on education across all levels, alliances with countries to utilize expertise, exploring green energy, agri-business and working to further develop Grand Bahama.

"We have nurtured the economy, assisted the dislocated and laid - and continue to lay - the foundation for a more robust, competitive and modern economy," said Mr Laing.

Source: The Tribune