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The second half of 2020 was a challenging run for the Bahamas, due to a number of false starts for the archipelago’s tourism industry, along with several substantial overhauls to its safety and testing requirements for arriving visitors.
But in recent months, the Caribbean nation has managed a relatively stable stretch of welcoming international visitors, and all told, more than 22,000 U.S. travelers visited the country between July 1 and Nov. 30 last year, according to tourism officials.
Joy Jibrilu, the director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, described 2020 as a year of “unprecedented roadblocks” in a Dec. 28 statement. But she also said the destination is committed to developing “new and unique ways to promote our islands’ offerings through expanded programs and initiatives” in 2021 that will “bring even more visitors back to our shores as quickly as possible.”
On Dec. 17, the destination launched a revamped Bahamas.com website, featuring new trip-planning tools for consumers, as well as new imagery and enhanced content about the destination’s activities and attractions. The site is also touting the spring 2021 launch of a new specialist program for travel advisors, which will include a rewards program.
“Bahamas.com provides consumers with a first look at all that our islands have to offer,” Jibrilu said in a statement. “We are thrilled to introduce the relaunched site.”
Peter Vlitas, senior vice president of airline relations for Travel Leaders Group’s parent company, Internova Travel Group, said the recent months of stability in the Bahamas’ COVID-19 pretest and safety requirements have helped the Caribbean archipelago earn back some trust among potential U.S. visitors.
“The number of people testing positive [in the Bahamas] is extremely low,” he said. “Properties are open. You haven’t had any negative news, and all this snowballs. … It increases consumer confidence, and all this is moving the Bahamas in the right direction.”
Vlitas said Internova saw a notable increase in traffic to the Bahamas over the recent holidays, along with new bookings coming in for January and February 2021.
“As every month goes by, it’s more of a V curve, shooting up,” Vlitas said of business to the destination.
U.S. travelers looking to visit the Bahamas are currently required to upload proof of a negative RT-PCR COVID-19 test — taken no more than five days before the date of arrival — to the destination’s travel.gov.bs website, where individuals must also apply for a Travel Health Visa (the cost of which is dependent on length of stay) and opt into a health insurance program. Arrivals will all undergo symptom and temperature screenings at the airport in the Bahamas, and travelers who stay longer than four days must also undergo an additional rapid COVID-19 antigen test, according to tourism officials. (Note that some islands may be following different orders than others, so travelers should check the status of their specific destination at www.bahamas.com/travelupdates before departure.)
As every month goes by, it’s more of a V curve, shooting up.
Margie Hand, an Andavo Travel advisor in Birmingham, Ala., said that the post-arrival test has been a turnoff for many of her clients considering a Bahamas vacation.
“I think a lot of people have a fear of ‘What if I get there, and I’m tested five days later, and I’m positive and I’m stuck there, having to quarantine there,’” Hand explained. “I think that’s in the back of a lot of people’s minds.”
Hand, who described the Bahamas as an important part of her business prior to the pandemic, said she didn’t sell any 2020 trips to the destination after its July reopening last summer. She did, however, sell a number of trips to other Caribbean islands during the second half of 2020, including Antigua and Jamaica, where visitors are required to provide proof of a negative pre-arrival test but do not need to test again during their stay.
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Late last month, Hand booked a couple for three nights at the all-inclusive Hotel Riu Palace Paradise Island for travel in late January, but she noted that the clients wanted to return home before the Bahamas’ mandatory fifth-day COVID-19 test requirement.
Hand said another challenge for the destination is many of its most popular luxury properties still haven’t reopened.
“Not having Rosewood Baha Mar; not having The Cove, Eleuthera; and not having some of those higher-end properties open is definitely a deterrent,” she said, noting that the Rosewood isn’t accepting reservations until March.
Katheryn Marshall, owner of Ms. Kathy’s Travels in Largo, Md., said her traditionally robust Bahamas business was also nonexistent after the destination reopened last summer. Marshall noted she booked a number of vacations to Mexico and Jamaica in recent months, but she said the Bahamas’ false starts last summer and ensuing confusion about what was actually required to visit the destination took a real toll.
“Now they’re open,” she said. “And we’re trying to get the word out to everyone that you can go to the Bahamas without problems.”
Marshall, Hand and Internova’s Vlitas were all bullish, however, on business not only to the Bahamas later this year but overall in 2021 — thanks, in large part, to the pent-up demand many hope COVID-19 inoculations will unleash in the months ahead.
“I was maybe getting eight requests every two weeks before,” Hand said of her overall business in the final months of 2020. “And now I’ve gotten eight requests in less than two days. So, since Christmas day, I’ve definitely seen a surge in people wanting to travel.”
The DetailsBahamas Ministry of Tourism www.bahamas.com