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After Dorian, Bahamas prepares for another hit — to its crucial tourism industry

Chabeli Herrera, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

It's a perception issue that the Caribbean has faced time and again when pelted with hurricanes. And for a region of the world that depends on people thinking it's safe enough to travel there, getting that message out is in a way a part of the relief effort.

Ellison Thompson, deputy director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation, said the ministry is working around the clock to tell the world that top destinations like Nassau, the Exumas, Eleuthera and Bimini are doing fine.

"In order for the reconstruction to happen, we would need our visitors to keep coming, so taxes can be used to aid in the reconstruction of those two islands (Abaco and Grand Bahama, where Dorian hit)," Thompson told the Orlando Sentinel. Preliminary estimates put the cost of the damage at $7 billion, according to Bloomberg.

An aggressive message is crucial in the days and weeks following the storm, said Robertico Croes, an expert with the University of Central Florida who studies tourism economics in small and developing countries.

"The whole thing here is speed," Croes said. "The quicker they can convince everybody that the southern part has not been affected and business can go on there and, as a matter of fact, it's a good thing for business to go there, then (the faster) the south can help the north."

Working in the Bahamas' favor is U.S. residents' familiarity with the region, Croes said. It's the top market in terms of visitors to the islands, and Americans will still travel there.

 

In Nassau, tie-dye T-shirt shop owner Yvette Prince is banking on that. She doesn't expect to see a huge drop in tourism to the capital city, where four cruise ships were docked Saturday afternoon.

But just in case people are confused, "here, that's why I have this map," she said, pointing to a booklet with a map of the islands she keeps with her at her port shop, Treasures by the Sea. "I show people, we have 700 islands, and (Dorian) doesn't mean the Bahamas are closed."

Still, Thompson knows that no matter how hard they work, the Bahamas will take another hit -- this one financial.

Nassau is the top destination, bringing in 2.6 million visitors between January and July this year, but Grand Bahama and Abaco are the next most visited spots, accounting for about 734,000 visitors between them.

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