Bahamian Officials: Islands Still Open for Tourism


    12 September, 2019

    Before Hurricane Dorian hit the island group, the Bahamas was expecting one of its best years for tourism. Now, the future for that industry is unclear.

    Some of the best-known resorts in the country, like Atlantis or Paradise Island, were not affected by the powerful ocean storm that destroyed other areas. Nassau, the largest city on the 700-island nation, had little damage.

    Evacuees carry their belongings as they walk to a ferry to depart for Nassau in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, at the port of Marsh Harbor, Abaco Island, Bahamas, Sept. 8, 2019.
    Evacuees carry their belongings as they walk to a ferry to depart for Nassau in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, at the port of Marsh Harbor, Abaco Island, Bahamas, Sept. 8, 2019.

    But Grand Bahama Island and the Abaco islands are 100 miles away. There, many small hotels and holiday rental properties were damaged or destroyed. That means Bahamian officials have two problems. They must keep attracting tourists, but also recognize the deep suffering of those affected by the storm.

    "All of the donations are welcome, but they can also...assist us by still visiting the islands of the Bahamas in the unaffected areas. They are open for business," said Ellison Thompson. He is the deputy director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation.

    The Bahamas Investment Authority says the islands depend on the tourism industry. It supplies half the islands' yearly gross domestic product of $5.7 billion.

    The Ministry of Tourism confirmed last week that all hotels on Abaco and Grand Bahama are closed. Together, the islands have about 3,000 hotel rooms, or 19 percent of the 16,000 rooms in the Bahamas, said Frank Comito. He is the chief of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association. The islands also have hundreds of vacation homes. Airbnb lists more than 600 rentals for the two islands.

    The government says Grand Bahama received 670,000 visitors in 2018, mostly from cruise ships. More than 100,000 visitors arrived by airplane last year into Marsh Harbour, the largest town in the Abaco islands.

    Comito has property on the beach in the Abaco islands, but does not know if it was damaged. Some hotels are providing information on Facebook. For example, the owners of Pelican Beach Villas said their oceanfront houses were completely destroyed. They were evacuated to Nassau by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. Firefly Resort Abaco tweeted photos of fallen trees and a collapsed building.

    "Hurricane Dorian destroyed our paradise. We will rebuild," the resort said in its Twitter post.

    There also is some industry in the area. Grand Bahama is home to the Freeport Container Port, a port for container ships that cross the ocean. Hong Kong-based Hutchinson Ports owns the business. It said its emergency team was helping with rescue efforts and trying to re-establish power at the port. Spokesman Anthony Tam said the company's nearby cruise station had little damage and was expecting ships carrying aid for hurricane victims soon.

    Those businesses could help speed the recovery. Carnival Cruise Lines said it is committed to a port development project in Grand Bahama announced earlier this year. It will be completed in 2021 and will be the largest port the company owns. It is expected to create at least 1,000 jobs.

    Tourism to unaffected islands could also bring in much-needed money and provide jobs for hotel workers. In early 2019, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation reported record levels of tourism partly because of the newly completed Baha Mar resort.

    "One of the best ways that people around the world can show their support and solidarity...is to visit our other islands by air or by cruise ship," Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said Friday.

    I'm Susan Shand.

    The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.

    Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.

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    Words in This Story

    tourism – n. the activity of traveling to a place for pleasure

    rental –adj. related to rent, paying an amount to use something such as a room or a house, for a short period of time

    resort – n. a place where people go for vacations

    gross domestic product – n. the total value of the goods and services produced by the people of a nation during a yea

    cruise – n. to travel on a boat or ship to a number of places as a vacation

    paradise – n. a very beautiful, pleasant, or peaceful place that seems to be perfect