When Delta Air Lines Inc. upped its weekly nonstop flight to Grand Bahama Island to daily service last fall, tourism officials didn’t see the move simply as a seasonal increase in frequencies.
While it was a way to entice more Americans flying south for the winter, it also had the longer-term potential to smooth out fluctuations in tourism traffic for the Bahamas, where the sector accounts for 65-70 percent of employment.
“We will be continuously promoting this so that it will become so much in demand that Delta will not only need to keep this, but also to add a second flight as well,” said Jeannie Gibson, communications director for the Bahamas Tourist Office in Florida.
The Bahamas is a collection of 700 islands, of which 30 are inhabited and 16 are promoted as destinations by the tourism board. Nassau, the national capital and one of the most popular destinations, is likely best-known to most Americans.
But Brooke Sherman, who handles tourist promotions for Grand Bahama, believes that her island has much to offer. The increase in Delta’s flight frequencies, she said, is in part a response to recent growth in available hotel rooms on the island at a variety of tiers, from three-star to luxury.
Atlanta, where the Bahamas operates a consulate general manned by Consul General Randy Rolle and a tourism office, is a key source market for tourists, especially for the African American community, Ms. Gibson said.
“The Bahamas is one of the most aggressive countries or destinations that has really taken a role of leadership in going after the African American market,” she added. Part of that outreach has included targeting influencers by sponsoring the Trumpet Awards, which celebrate black achievement. Mr. Rolle attended this year’s event.
But Delta’s nonstop connection from Atlanta also offers a broader reach, both geographically and demographically, offering one-stop connectivity from such markets as Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and Pittsburgh.
Eight such cities were targeted on a nationwide roadshow the culminated March 18 in which the tourism board showcased the new Delta flights and highlighted a few new tourist packages.
Grand Bahama, the closest Bahamian island to the U.S., is more than sun and sand, said Ms. Sherman. Freeport, the main city, is a commercial hub with a variety of dining and nightlife options, while the West End offers a sleepy fishing-village feel. On the East End, eco-tourism and outdoor activities take center stage. All throughout the island, cultural ties with the South are evident. Many places and streets are marked with the names of freed slaves who made their homes on Grand Bahama, and the island’s inhabitants share African heritage with certain coastal populations in Georgia and South Carolina.
Atlantans might also be intrigued to note that native son and civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spent significant time in the Bahamas and wrote his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech while visiting the Bimini islands, where a bust of Dr. King has been put on display to honor that moment.
But the island is more than history, Ms. Sherman said, highlighting a packed April calendar of events that give Americans a chance to interact with Bahamian culture. The day after Easter will bring the coconut festival, with its many contests for eating, drinking and husking the fruit. A youth sailing regatta will follow on April 11.
But the biggest event of the year on Grand Bahama will be the Junkanoo Carnival, a weekend music festival on Taino Beach in Freeport, where 19 Goombay artists will compete to reach the finals in a national competition in Nassau. Goombay is a rhythmic form of music centered on drums made of goat skin and augmented in the modern day by cowbells, brass instruments and conch shells. Junkanoo is celebrated on Boxing Day each year to commemorate when Bahamian slaves were given a day off to celebrate traditional African holidays with their families. Simple personal ornamentation in the early days has gradually evolved into today’s display of bright, colorful costumes.
Mr. Rolle has been promoting the event throughout the U.S.
“Everywhere we go, it has been a tremendous success. Everyone wants photographs with the models and everyone wants more information, to the point where we were asked to set up a table or have an extra person hand out literature on Junkanoo Carnival. Based on the response we’ve been getting, people are considering making the trip to be in the Bahamas for this event,” he said in a news release.
The April 17-18 carnival on Grand Bahama will include an all-night “Midnight Rush” party followed by a full day of beach festivities on Saturday before the evening announcement of the musical contest winners.
To learn more about tourism in the Bahamas, contact Edward Archer, general manager of the Bahamas Tourist Office in Atlanta, at 404-600-8630 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about the Bahamas Consulate General at http://bahconga.com/