By Krystel Rolle
Nassau Guardian Staff Reporter
NASSAU, Bahamas -- The Bahamas welcomed a record 5.9 million visitors last year, with Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe projecting the country is on track to welcome seven million visitors in a single year by 2015.
"Over the last 30 to 40 years there have been some changes in the tourism industry," Wilchcombe said in the House of Assembly on Wednesday as he contributed to debate on the mid-year budget.
"Last year The Bahamas ended the year with a record number again, 5.9 million visitors. That tells you that we're about to head to the 7 million that I'm projecting in another two years. And our preliminary report shows spend might also be up, particularly the spend from the cruise ship passengers."
The majority of last year’s visitors were cruise ship passengers. In 2011, there were 5.5 million tourists, according to statistics.
With the record number of visitors, the tourism industry recorded growth of 7.3 percent last year.
Wilchcombe said the industry is expected to grow even further this year.
"Of course you have the cruise ship visitors who are continuing to provide those incredible numbers that we're seeing. It makes you feel that there is hope in the tourism industry. We see the World Travel and Tourism Council is reporting that The Bahamas is likely to see a 5.3 percent growth this year in the tourism industry.
That's good because, whether we like it or not, we are still anchored to tourism," he added.
And while the numbers are growing, Wilchcombe pointed out that there is much more work to be done.
"In the cruise industry just two Fridays ago we had 26,000 passengers on Bay Street. So it tells you that we are right there but what we have to do is understand that we have to change some things that we do. We have to listen to what the customer is saying. The customer is saying that they want a better product."
Wilchcombe said the visitors are asking for better service, more entertainment, more culture and lower prices.
"You can spend money on marketing but if you don't have the product they are going to go somewhere else," he said.
The minister added that high energy costs are contributing to the cost of vacationing in The Bahamas. He said the energy cost here is 300 percent more than it is in Mexico and 150 percent more than it is in Jamaica.
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian