On Wednesday, The Bahamas will reopen its borders to international travel after a three-month closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the big question is, what’s next?
The global crisis, which has upended economies throughout the world, including The Bahamas, is still battering many countries, including the United States.
As of Friday, Florida reported 9,000 new coronavirus cases. The World Health Organization (WHO) also warned that the virus could “push health systems to the brink” in Europe if new case numbers continue to grow.
The numbers are frightening and many here at home fear that The Bahamas’ numbers will surge with the July 1 reopening. Others, however, feel it’s time the country gets back to business so that it can begin its economic recovery.
The Minnis administration is proceeding with caution. Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis recently announced that all visitors, citizens and legal residents entering The Bahamas as of July 1, will need to have a negative “real time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction COVID-19 diagnostic test from an accredited lab.”
The swab test must be taken within a window up to 10 days before travel to The Bahamas.
But, just because we are reopening doesn’t mean travelers will eagerly flock to our shores. Cruise ships won’t sail from US ports until mid-September and many North Americans are still leery about travel. Others simply can’t afford to at this time.
There are also visitors who have expressed frustrations that they are being required to take a COVID-19 test before entering The Bahamas. While it may seem like they are just being difficult, one must understand that testing is not available everywhere and to everyone.
Test supplies in the US are extremely limited and before individuals can get tested, they must demonstrate that they are exhibiting symptoms in order to qualify for a test. Some US medical facilities are refusing tests to individuals who don’t have symptoms.
So, it’s not easy to just get tested, especially if you’re travelling with family members.
While many Bahamians have urged successive governments to move away from the tourism model I don’t think we should just yet. At least not without milking it for everything we can.
The Bahamas Needs To Open Up Further
The Bahamas needs to really consider broadening its tourism base in order to attract a new type of visitor, like affluent LGBTQ+ travelers.
According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) – the United Nations’ specialized agency for tourism – LGBTQ+ travel is one of the fastest-growing markets in the worldwide travel industry.
THE LGBTQ+ travel market spends $218 billion annually.
Research done by Out Now Consulting looked at several key countries. The research shows that in 2018, LGBTQ US residents alone spent $63.1 billion on travel, Brazil residents spent $26.8 billion, Japan $20.7 billion, Germany $13.8 billion and the UK $11.7 billion.
Cities around the world frequently advertise themselves as LGBTQ+-friendly destinations and gladly welcome those travelers’ “pink dollars.”
While The Bahamas has not refused LGBTQ+ business, it certainly hasn’t been as progressive as other Caribbean countries in making those travelers feel safe, welcomed and included.
In 2019, The International LGBTQ+ Travel Association Foundation (IGLTAF) and Airbnb partnered and released a survey that revealed travel trends for LGBTQ+ travelers.
The research revealed that 86 percent of LGBTQ+ travelers said that a destination’s policies toward the community are at least somewhat important when deciding where to travel. The survey also revealed that 51 percent of LGBTQ+ respondents are “very unlikely” to travel to a country where being LGBTQ+ is illegal.
In 2019, Afar Travel Magazine and Guide released its list for “The Best Caribbean Islands For Gay and Lesbian Travelers.”
The British Virgin Islands, Curaçao, St Bart’s, St. Martin/St. Maarten and Puerto Rico all made the list, citing their relaxed attitude towards gay and lesbian travelers. Noticeably missing? The Bahamas.
Curaçao and Puerto Rico, for example, are some of the few Caribbean islands that hold gay pride celebrations.
The time has come to start aggressively courting that business.
One of the opportunities that also remains untapped is accessible tourism/accessible travel. Individuals who are disabled or differently abled are always in search of travel opportunities to destinations that can accommodate their needs.
Sadly, The Bahamas is not very accommodating.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 billion people around the world have some disability.
Open Doors Organization, a Chicago-based non-profit which is dedicated to “opening doors for people with disabilities in travel and tourism,” estimates that adults with disabilities spend $17.3 billion on travel each year.
Outside of the major hotels, how many restaurants have barrier-free facilities designed to make entry accessible for individuals in a wheelchair, for example.
Today, as you go out, make a mental note of the establishments that don’t have a ramp or whose doors aren’t wide enough for a wheelchair to enter. Also, how many of those establishments have doors that automatically open?
Travelling with limited mobility is hard enough. Imagine having to use the bathroom on an airplane or booking accommodations at a hotel that doesn’t allow your service animal.
The Bahamas has also failed to make tourism participatory for this group. What fun activities are attractions are available for individuals who are blind, deaf or cannot walk?
Tourism is an extremely competitive business. We have to remember that The Bahamas isn’t simply competing with its Caribbean neighbors, it’s competing with other global destinations – destinations that are way more progressive.
We have to adapt quickly because offering sun, sand and sea alone simply won’t cut it.