The marina and cruise ship industry in The Bahamas would not be in jeopardy should the economic embargo the United States has on Cuba be lifted, Bahamas Port Authority Controller Captain Anthony Allens predicted recently.
In an interview with The Bahama Journal, Mr. Allens said that although Cuba has changed leadership – with longtime dictator President Fidel Castro stepping down and his younger brother Raúl Castro succeeding him – The Bahamas has nothing to fear.
“What people need to understand is that at some point in time, Cuba will open up,” he said.
“I don’t think that The Bahamas should be too afraid of Cuba opening up. I think Cuba will just be another destination where persons will go, and persons will go there [because] of the mystique surrounding Cuba. They can’t get there now. But provided we maintain a standard here in The Bahamas that is world class, the persons will come back.”
On July 31, Raúl Castro assumed the duties of President of the Council of State in a temporary Cuban transfer of power transfer of power due to Fidel Castro’s illness.
Raúl Castro was elected president just over a week ago during “National Assembly of People’s Power” National Assembly session, as Fidel Castro announced his intention days before not to stand for president
Mr. Allens said with the prospect that Cuba will become a major competitor in the tourism industry, The Bahamas must let its reputation speak for itself to lure more visitors to the islands.
“Most of the cruises originate from the Florida area and a lot of them are three, four days, five days, and so with Cuba opened up, all it would do is add another leg to that cruise. So Miami, Bahamas, to Cuba or back to Miami or the other way around,” he said.
“So what we have to do is ensure that we have a product so that persons would say let’s combine that in addition to the Cuba experience.”
He said the formation of a Bahamas Marina Operators Association would be a key element in enhancing the tourism product.
“They can bring a lot of things to the table. They know their market and they hear the cries of the persons in the yachts when they come here,” Mr. Allens said.
The Ministry of Tourism recently released preliminary figures which showed a 3.4 percent decline in visitors to The Bahamas in 2007 over 2006.
Grand Bahama’s cruise visitor figures, reached 311,762, reflecting an eight percent decline over the same period, according to officials.
It was also reported that there were 4.6 million visitors to The Bahamas in 2007 – 162,000 fewer than in the previous year
The Bahamas’ air stopover arrivals stood at 1,369,585 in 2007 – a three percent decline over 2006. Grand Bahama’s performance in particular, reflected a 1 percent decline with arrivals of 191,367, officials said.
Gary Bartel, owner and operator of the Sunrise Resort and Marina, told The Journal that the Marina Association is critical to an island like Grand Bahama, “where you don’t have a history of cooperation. We need to come together and work together in order to achieve the common goals and objectives that our marina operators have.”
He said this is important for marketing The Bahamas as a whole.
“In the states, for example, persons who want to bring their boats over, they need to understand that the marinas that we have here are not only satisfactory, but this is the type of place that they want to come – bring their boats, bring their families and enjoy themselves,” Mr. Bartel said.
“Obviously, it would help the marina operators and owners as well as the hotels, but the key is that we need to increase our customer base. We’re looking for the boats that are deciding whether they are going to go to The Bahamas or sail down to the Virgin Islands or to sail somewhere else.”
Mr. Bartel said right now, there is not a concentrated effort to attract those boaters to Grand Bahama.
However, he said the big advantage is that the island is 70 or 80 miles from some of the most heavily boated waters in the world.
The association, according to Mr. Bartel, “will make people aware that we have a beautiful group of marinas on the islands in this country, but we also have the kind of places where they can come and enjoy themselves and they are not going to have to worry if they are going to find a suitable marina for these purposes.”