MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas – Known for its beautiful turquoise waters and stellar fishing, the Bahamas has always been a dream vacation spot.
But it only takes one storm to put a major strain on tourism, and that storm was Hurricane Dorian.
COVID-19 forced the Bahamas to shut down when they were still recovering from the devastating aftermath of the Category 5 storm that hit in 2019.
Now, they are seeing a huge surge of tourists as one of the first islands in the Caribbean to accept vaccinated visitors without a negative COVID-19 test.
Considering how the Abaco Beach Resort in Marsh Harbour looked after being hit by the eye of Dorian two years ago, it seemed almost impossible to rebuild.
“The resort sustained extensive damage,” said Brent Ingraham of the resort. “Whether it was the damage from the roofs, the main check-in area, it collapsed on itself.”
For the Abacos and Grand Bahama, Dorian caused $3.4 billion in damages.
But, Abaco Beach Resort never closed its doors and kept most of the staff working.
They also worked fast, with new hotel rooms and hurricane-proof windows now throughout the resort, plus a new bistro and lobby.
One of the first things rebuilt was the marina, because fishermen were eager to come back and get out on the water. The resort was set to host fishing tournaments in the spring of 2020.
That is, until the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“Of course COVID came, and that just blew up in our face,” Ingraham said.
COVID-19 shut down the world, and it particularly shut down tourism. About 40-50% of the Bahamas’ economy is a direct result of tourism, with half of the people working in that sector.
After breaking records in tourism in 2019 with 7.2 million visitors, in 2020 the Bahamas suffered a 76% drop.
“That has been the most difficult period,” said Joy Jibrilu, director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.
Knowing tourism was essential not only for the economy but to help with rebuilding after Dorian, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism worked on luring visitors back.
Because of low COVID-19 numbers, the Bahamas is now among one of the first islands welcoming vaccinated visitors back. Non-vaccianted people need a negative COVID test.
“There was a hurricane, immediately followed by COVID,” Jibrilu said. “We need to get people back to work.”
There have also been big moves to make the Bahamas even more desirable.
The cruise industry, which was shuttered by COVID-19, is finding a new home in the Bahamas, where Royal Caribbean and Crystal Cruises will have home ports.
And, according to CheapOair, the Bahamas saw a 203% increase in flight bookings in April compared to January. More flights, from more airlines, are being added.
Bahamians hope this trend continues.
Tourism dollars mean the economy can flourish, and it also means recovery can continue in areas that are still working their way back from Dorian.
“We need you to come back,” Ingraham said. “We are a tourism destination.”
Vaccinated or not, you do still need a health visa to enter the Bahamas. You simply upload the appropriate documents.