Hurricane Dorian was a disaster for the Bahamas, leaving at least 50 people dead, 2,500 registered as missing, and 17% of the island’s inhabitants rendered homeless as a result of property destruction. The category 5 hurricane was among the most powerful ever to hit the Caribbean on record, and the Prime Minister of the Bahamas noted that damage from the storm would be felt for generations to come. As a result of the damage wrought by the hurricane, many vacationers have cancelled their plans to travel to the island. But as the Bahamas are an archipelago consisting of 700 islands and cays, and only the Abaco and Grand Bahamas regions were hit, many of these cancellations were unwarranted. Officials in the tourism business report that tourism has decreased by half since the hurricane, and many government officials are stating that the best way to help the country is by visiting and spending money, as tourism makes up 60% of the nation’s economy.
While Grand Bahama and Abaco were the second and third most visited islands of the Bahamas, and those two islands will be out of commission as tourist destinations for the foreseeable future, the majority of the major travel destinations in the country were totally unaffected, contrary to popular assumptions. The major tourism center at Paradise Island and the ports for cruise ships, for instance, remain totally intact, and communicating that fact is proving to be a challenge for the tourism industry, as cable news and Internet stories are dominated by images of total destruction in the Grand Bahamas and Abacos islands. The Bahamas spans 100,000 square miles of water, and while the size of the hurricane was massive, it only affected a small portion of the overall land mass of the country.
In an effort to court travelers, businesses offering tourist attractions such as fishing expeditions have offered discounts and attempted to spread the word that they were still open on social media. The official Instagram account of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation, visitthebahamas, posted a picture of a map with all of the islands unaffected by the hurricane highlighted in yellow, accompanied by the text “You’ve shown us great love. We’re so grateful, we’d like to return the favor. 14 islands welcome you with open arms,” and the caption “The last few days have reminded us that together, we’re stronger. Let us return the love you’ve shown us by welcoming you the only way we know how — with open arms.”
Because of the importance of tourism to the economy of the Bahamas, officials are hoping that the islands that were untouched can function as a lifeline to help support the economy of the country overall. While the best way to support the hurricane relief effort is to donate money or goods or to volunteer, tourism in the Bahamas is expected to be another essential element of the country’s recovery. These islands, including Harbour Island, Eleuthera, and Bimini offer cruise ports, resorts, hotels, and beaches, and remain open for business. Officials have urged travelers with plans to visit unaffected islands to keep their reservations, and suggested that travellers who had plans to visit Grand Bahamas and Abacos reschedule their plans to visit the other islands instead.
Though the cruise ship industry has had a rocky relationship with the government of the Bahamas at times, Carnival and Royal Caribbean have committed resources to rebuilding the affected islands. The country has a message to send to the rest of the world that can be difficult to communicate: while the government doesn’t want to trivialize or marginalize the extent of the damage to property and human life wrought by the storm, they also don’t want to send the message that the Bahamas are a dangerous or unappealing place to visit for leisure. While Dorian has been more destructive than previous hurricanes, the country tends to see a decline in tourism in the aftermath of these weather events, which usually returns to a normal rate within two years.