Posted by: bahamasaviator | February 24, 2012

Increasing Bahamas Out Island visits

http://bahamasaviator.com/up_south.html
I’ve just finished flying the “Up-South” southern Bahamas Islands for the last few weeks filming for the BOIPB. After many conversations with the locals and business owners, a few thoughts come to mind for developing new business. Please note, I am making these comments as a personal observation only, knowing how complicated it is to change the way things are done.

The big issue for visitors is the cost of getting there, and how to get the most out of a trip. The Bahamas is wisely addressing that issue with the ticket and gas rebates. This program should be aggressively promoted. Secondly, everyone wants a piece of paradise, but the entry level expense for more than a short visit is too high for most people. Over the 30 years I’ve seen the out island middle class visitors fade away, while a few of the highest end islands and Cays become enclaves for the very upscale travelers. That situation reflects the general state of the western economy, and the demise of new pilots, but there might be a few ideas beside building another “mega-resort”, that could help a bit.

When talking about some of the least developed islands like Crooked, or Acklins, small moves could make a big difference. Crooked island has lost almost 70% of it’s population over the last 20 years. It’s easy to understand why the young leave. No jobs, and wanting the exposure of the more modern world in Nassau. This has left a decaying infrastructure of small houses and even whole villages. Bypassing the discussion about selling generational land for now, there might be other ways to bring in new blood.

One idea that seems to be taking hold in parts of the world is micro-economic development, ie. small ways to help local individuals start businesses or offer services.

In many tourist countrys, after a local guide takes you around, you end up in a gift shop featuring local products. Every island could develop this approach, even if you end up in someones living room buying some shell art. The key is the personal, friendly connections, which the Bahamas people excel at. It China you pay, just to see how a local person lives. Going somewhere simple, to meet people who still live off the land is very interesting to many. People who know how to farm, fish, pump water, and cook outside, have a high value to travelers, tired of big cities. People travel, looking for unique chances to see how other’s live. This flow of culture has to be organized in some way, tourists are too shy to start knocking on doors. They are used to the powerful anti-trespassing laws here in the US, and often don’t venture much beyond the resort where they stay.

Each out island should have a -for profit- tour system, with a guide, with access to transportation, to “feed” interested people into the local villages, and sites. Rates should be clear, along with add-ons, like food, or crafts. Clifford “Snake Eyes” Fernander of San Salvador is a good example of this direction. He has a tour bus, and knows local history. It would not be much of a jump for him to also sell the herbal teas he knows so much about, and coordinate with the island craft people on his tours. Bernard Ferguson of Crooked Island might visit him and go on a few of his tours, and bring that model back on his island.

Another idea would is a “non-resident homestead lease” based on improving an abandoned generational property. Generational land is a nice idea, but all the discarded homes “junk-up” an island, and increase the sense of a not cared for environment. This does not attract new visitors. If anyone can fix up a place lying empty, after giving proper notice to all concerned, they should be allowed to use it for a fixed amount of time, say 20 years. After that it would revert back to the original family, or a new lease could be offered from the family, or island government. When artists discover an area, values rise, because they work on a grass roots level to improve their environments, and often see beauty and opportunity that others have missed. It’s not hard to reach artist communities in the US with a targeted marketing effort.

One Bahama rule that makes a longer stay impossible is no camping. I could imagine folks in Land-rail Point, Crooked Island, or other villages allowing modest camping use, by offering services, bathroom, water, etc, at prices far lower than resort costs. This would put the Bahamas on the map for many younger people who roam the world, but have limited funds, as well as hikers and Kayakers. Countries like Iceland host thousands of “backpackers” who add to the local economy and use local services. They might not spend money like a large boat or aircraft visit, but these people often have ample funds, as you can see from their fancy hiking gear. They visit the parks all around Iceland. Every island could have a nature park like this, with basic services, and soon local businesses will develop to support them.

With a better flow of outsiders, local products could be sold, like herbal teas, produce, and crafts. There are a number of bush products similar to the cascarilla tree bark, used in Campari. Local people should understand, visitors like to take home a “piece” of there trip, like teas, crafts, and even local harvested salt. Organic sea salt sells for high prices in Hawaii. It just needs a simple package and label, a little home-brew hype. Often travelers would rather buy “art” than tee shirts. In the Canadian arctic, whole native Inuit villages live off their painting and drawing income, having galleries through the US. Good artwork can sell in the high thousands, but MUST be authentic, not “made for tourism”.

The key for new, longer staying visitors, is to lower to bar with the cost of their stay, and offer more choices and chances to connect. Some out islands could benefit from a different, approach to short and longer term visitors.

Craig Peyton, 02/2012

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