22 JANUARY 2012
Mr. Alec Sanguinetti, Director General & CEO of CHTA;
Mr. Josef Forstmayr, CHTA President;
Mr. Richard Doumeng, CHTA President Elect;
Ministers of Tourism from throughout the region;
Sen. Hon. Richard Skerritt, Chairman of Caribbean Tourism Organization;
Mr. Hugh Riley, Secretary General of Caribbean Tourism Organization;
Members of the Press;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
It is my great pleasure to welcome you back to The Bahamas, and to Nassau and Paradise Island. I trust that by now my greeting is simply the formal expression of the warm reception and careful attention you have already experienced. We are always happy to embrace opportunities that gather colleagues and partners from throughout the region and around the world in The Bahamas.
2012 is a year of notable anniversaries for the tourism sector. It is the 50th anniversary of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, and I congratulate you as you celebrate this significant milestone.
Our Bahamas Hotel Association, soon to be formally named the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association, is one of the founding members of the original Caribbean Hotel Association. It celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.
This year is also the 30th anniversary of Caribbean Marketplace. I am reminded that our very own George Myers was instrumental in its creation, hosting, along with our Ministry of Tourism, a number of the early Marketplace events.
At this year’s Marketplace, I am advised that you expect one of the best turnouts ever of buyers and sellers. This includes some 679 representatives of ‘supplier’ companies: hotels, attractions, destination management companies, tourism groups and transportation companies.
It also includes 331 individuals representing buyers: tour operators, wholesalers and online intermediaries. These are encouraging numbers. And, of course, we are always happy to have representatives from the regional and international press in attendance.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We begin 2012 with the hope that this year will mark a distinct point of recovery and return to sustained growth for tourism in our region.
We believe that early signs of improvement are evident. In The Bahamas, we saw a robust uptick in arrivals since November last. By a number of measures, this past December was particularly good for the 14 major Nassau and Paradise Island hotels.
For the second year in a row since the Great Recession room occupancies, average daily rates and room rates were up last year. Perhaps most encouraging has been that visitors are spending longer periods with us and reporting improved levels of customer satisfaction.
Some of this is the result, we believe, of aggressive action to revamp our product during the slowdown so as to be better prepared to benefit from the recovery as it occurs.
Here in The Bahamas we are focused upon ensuring our readiness for the inevitable global economic recovery as it occurs. Our economy is therefore the beneficiary of the most comprehensive upgrade and expansion in our history.
I am sure that upon arrival many of you took note of the major redevelopment which is underway at the Lynden Pindling International Airport – part of a $410 million three-phased upgrade and expansion project. The first phase, a new US Departure Terminal, was completed and opened last March. The second phase is moving toward an on-schedule completion in October. The complete redevelopment should be fully open and operational by December, 2013.
Those of you departing Nassau for a US destination will experience firsthand what might arguably be described as the most visitor-friendly terminal in the region.
On your travels from the airport to your hotel, I am sure you also noted rather extensive road works underway. The four-lane Airport Gateway together with other road construction will make travel from the airport to our tourism centres in Cable Beach and here on Paradise Island more pleasant.
The new Gateway will reduce overall traffic congestion on this small and increasingly heavily populated city. Great care is being taken to preserve and enhance the landscape, including vistas to wetlands and, of course, to the sea.
Other infrastructural developments are being undertaken simultaneously with our road works. This includes the installation of underground utility corridors meant to significantly improve the quality and reliability of critical utilities – water, electricity and communications. It is our goal to make New Providence Island, the seat of our capital city, a modern, efficient, environmentally friendly place in which to live, work and enjoy recreation.
Our infrastructural improvement campaign has had a double benefit. We are putting in place critical infrastructure that will have long term value. Secondly, we are creating employment and business opportunities during recessionary times. This has off-set some of the fall-off in private sector activity.
Last year we completed a lengthy and sometimes difficult privatisation of the government-owned telecommunications monopoly. We are already experiencing some of the enhanced services which are expected as a result of access to improved technologies and larger economies of scale.
Investment has not been restricted to the public sector during this difficult economic period. Many of you have seen the mega Baha Mar resort redevelopment underway in Cable Beach. The transformation of Cable Beach promises to add another dimension to what we have to offer visitors to our island beginning in 2014.
Additional public and private sector investments are coming together to spur on the revitalization of our historic City of Nassau. Our harbour has been deepened facilitating the berthing in Nassau harbour of the largest passenger cruise ships travelling the seas today.
It is important to note that the $52 million dredging project was repaid from incremental cruise passenger taxes in just two years. And, the incremental spending by new cruise passengers alone exceeds $40 million per year.
Nassau’s historic Straw Market, destroyed by fire in 2001, was rebuilt and reopened just last month. And the dredging of our harbour produced the material needed to expand cargo port facilities at Arawak Cay just outside our city centre. The removal of commercial cargo traffic from the city will further enhance the ambiance of Nassau.
And so, while not wishing to distract you from important business opportunities at this Marketplace, I do want to encourage you to take some time to visit and shop in our new Straw Market. We are proud of it and believe that you will find there excellent examples of authentically-Bahamian craft.
This essential work in the downtown area is being accomplished through strong partnership between the public and private sectors. We have a renewed appreciation for this partnership; and the trend of rebranding hotel associations as hotel and tourism associations hints at a new-found appreciation for wider partnerships beyond hotels and throughout the region.
Our private-public sector collaboration is further reflected in the new Tourism Centre scheduled to be formally opened in short order. It will house both the Ministry of Tourism & Aviation and a number of private sector organizations (Promotion Boards, Hotel Employers Association) with which the Ministry of Tourism works so closely on a regular basis.
We are undertaking additional infrastructural developments around our Family of Islands to ensure that each of our varied destinations is well-positioned to benefit from the turn-around in the global economy as it occurs.
Electricity and water supplies have been upgraded in several of our islands notably in Abaco, Bimini, Harbour Island, Eleuthera, and Long Island. A new airport terminal in Abaco, replacement bridges in Andros and the repair and upgrade of docks and roads are all being undertaken in our Family Islands including restoration work following the damage suffered as a result of Hurricane Irene last year.
We continue to see the investment in people and the continued building of relationships as the key to sustained growth. In The Bahamas, we have placed considerable emphasis on improving the visitor’s experience through investing in Bahamians.
Two of the enduring programs of the Ministry of Tourism – the BahamaHost training program for the tourism industry and the People-to-People cultural exchange program for visitors – have been tremendously improved.
These programs provide avenues through which our guests are touched on a personal level, increasing the emotional bond with our country and encouraging them to continue to recommend a Bahamas experience to their friends and relatives.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I would like to thank the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation, the Bahamas Hotel Association, the Promotion Boards and Atlantis for organizing what promises to be a first-class event conducive of a successful buying and selling environment.
I extend every best wish for a successful Marketplace. We look forward to seeing the region reap substantial rewards through the hard work you will do here and in the year ahead.
I should like to close by thanking the Hon. Vincent Vanderpool Wallace for his extraordinary hard work, creativity and energy. We are most grateful to him.
Again, welcome back to The Bahamas. I thank you. Good evening.
CAPTION: Dancers entertaining after opening ceremonies.