By Yolanda Hanna
Photographs courtesy of The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation, UNEXSO, Grand Bahama Nature Tours
In 2020, the narrative of Grand Bahama Island is filled with faith, hope and the fierce determination of residents eager to reignite the island's economic engines. The beautiful island, renowned for its pristine beaches, ecological habitats and myriad of dining experiences, is steadily rebuilding post-Hurricane Dorian. At the core of the recovery, alongside residents and NGOs, are business owners who have keenly demonstrated a commitment to do their part to rebuild Grand Bahama's economy.
An aggressive marketing campaign was launched at the beginning of the year by the Grand Bahama Island Tourism Board (GBITB) in partnership with the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation (BMOTA), to send a strong message to international tourism markets and the world at large that Grand Bahama is not out of the game—it is open for business. In fact, a few months after the storm, several hotel properties and businesses in multiple sectors were already operational and eager to welcome back familiar faces and embrace new visitors to the island.
When historians document the recovery process of this tranquil 530 square-mile island located just off the coast of Florida, they will undoubtedly note that one of the island’s most attractive qualities is the warmth of its people and their amazing resilience in the face of adversity. The dawning of the New Year was ushered in with strong optimism for the road ahead.
At the beginning of 2020, 1,416 hotel rooms were available for booking, which represents 85% of the room inventory that was available prior to Hurricane Dorian. The properties ready for business include Lighthouse Pointe at Grand Lucayan, Pelican Bay Hotel, Bell Channel Inn, Ocean Reef Resort, Castaways Resort, Royal Islander, Sunrise Resort & Suites, Old Bahama Bay Resort, Paradise Cove and Blue Marlin Cove. Prior to reopening, the popular all-inclusive Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach Resort embarked on a massive renovation project of more than 50% of its room inventory, which also included the refreshing of its restaurants and bars, spa and amphitheater. A number of vacation rentals and timeshares are also now available for booking. The Taino Beach Resort, Dundee Bay Villas, Mayfield Beach & Tennis Club and Island Seas Resort are all also open for business, and additional hotel properties are scheduled to reopen by mid-year, giving vacationers a wide range of accommodations to choose from.
A long-standing favorite destination of travelers for many years, the island has always boasted a sumptuous array of restaurants for dining. Foodies have enjoyed menu offerings spanning from native Bahamian to Italian to Latin-fusion with a tropical island twist, and they will be pleased to know that a number of restaurants are back, offering delicious selections to feast on and an atmosphere filled with warm smiles and colorful conversation to highlight their dining experience. These Bahamian-owned restaurants contribute significantly to Grand Bahama's economy, and are a major part of the island's restoration. The flavorful Merport Bistro in Downtown Freeport; succulent seafood dishes at Out Da Sea Bar & Grill and The Stoned Crab; tasty down home delights from Geneva's Place, Mary Ann's, the Wednesday night Fish Fry in Smith's Point, Toads on the Bay in William's Town, Upstairs Restaurant at Bell Channel Inn and Tony Macaroni's Conch Experience; and the fusion flavors found at Sabor Bahamas Restaurant & Bar and Agave are just some of the restaurants that are open for business. A top honor was bestowed upon Grand Bahama restaurant Flying Fish Gastro Bar from the global digital Caribbean culture magazine The Caribbean Journal, which named the restaurant in the top 20 on its "50 Best Caribbean Restaurants 2020" list.
Even more accolades were lavished on local businesses for their quality tourism products, as Carnival Cruise Line (which averages 15 calls a month to Grand Bahama and is the largest provider of cruise ship guests to the island) presented scuba tour agency UNEXSO with the prestigious Caribbean's Leading Tour Operator award, which is given to the company that receives the highest ratings from both their passengers and onboard shore excursion staff for shore excursions conducted the previous season. Award nominations also came from USA Today's 2020 Caribbean Readers Choice Awards as Grand Bahama received four nominations in the categories: Best Caribbean Beach (Fortune Beach and Gold Rock Beach), Best Caribbean Beach Bar (Tony Macaroni’s Conch Experience) and Best Caribbean Restaurant (Banana Bay Restaurant & Bar). The recognition sparked glimmers of hope among stakeholders, and it was a reminder to travelers that there are still interesting experiences to enjoy on Grand Bahama Island.
At the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) 2020 Marketplace held at the Baha Mar resort on New Providence in January, representatives from the Grand Bahama Island Tourism Board, Grand Bahama Port Authority, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation and the Office of the Prime Minister, along with several of the island's stakeholders, used the platform to share updates on the island's recovery and to confirm its readiness to receive visitors. The team further reinforced the restoration message by inviting a select group of tour operators, journalists and other media to the island on a familiarization trip at the close of CHTA 2020 Marketplace. Representatives from Sunwing International, Apple Leisure Group and operators from Portugal and France, along with travel writers from USA Today and Travel Weekly, freelance writers, influencers and bloggers, flew to Grand Bahama and experienced firsthand transportation services, ecological tours, local cuisine and handmade crafts. Accompanied by executives from Grand Bahama Island Tourism Board and Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, the group's trip to the island allowed them to share their experiences directly with the tourism markets they each represented.
In the midst of ongoing work, creative strategies have been formulated to support the return of visitors to the island, and there is evidence of progression. At the beginning of the year, Bahamasair and Silver Airlines offered special promotions on flights from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport; American Airlines resumed services from Miami to Freeport in February; Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line announced a flash sale on sailings to Grand Bahama island as part of its "roaring twenties” promotion in which guests who book a two-night sailing to Grand Bahama through June 30, 2020 will receive 50% off the second guest; and Balearia Caribbean launched “snowbird winter" getaways in January to encourage travel to the island, and it continues to offer day trips and round-trip travel to Freeport.
As travel season kicks into full swing, and The Bahamas continues to experience growth in the tourism sector, Grand Bahama has reclaimed its seat at the tourism table, boldly stating that in the midst of rebuilding and restoring, it still has the time to entertain the world. The door to the island is open; welcome back to Grand Bahama.
Grand Bahama Island's major attractions scored within the Top 10 of USA Today's 10 Best Caribbean Categories.
Best Caribbean Beach Bar, #7 Tony Macaroni's Conch Experience
Best Caribbean Restaurant, #9 @Banana Bay Restaurant
Best Caribbean Beach, #8 @Fortune Bay Beach, #9 @Gold Rock Beach
Congratulations to all of the nominees and winners of each category.
For more information on air and sea offers, accommodations, restaurants, tours and activities, visit www.grandbahamavacations.com.
PHOTO CREDIT – DESCRIPTION
1) Family of 4 preparing to paddle board along the Grand Bahama shoreline
2) Jeep Safari, provided by Grand Bahama Nature Tours
3) Open Ocean Dolphin swim experience, provided by UNEXSO
4) Jeep Safari, provided by Grand Bahama Nature Tours
5) Hobie Cat family launching a self-guided tour from a pristine Grand Bahama Beach