The total area of the Bahamas is equivalent to the size of France, but only a handful of its 700 or so islands have made any inroads into the UKvisitor market.

Nassau and Paradise Island are still the main draws for UK visitors, but travel agents and tour operators are making more of an effort to sell the Out Islands, now seen as the up and coming players in the Caribbean.

Latest available figures from the Bahamas Tourist Office show that 55,500 UKvisitors travelled to the islands in 1997. Operators are agreed that that overall business to the islands was up by 20% on this last year and showing no signs of slacking off in 2000. Not bad for a destination which for a long time was seen as difficult to sell.

Hayes and Jarvis features the Bahamas in its Holidays Worldwide and Diving Worldwide brochures. A spokesman said that in the past the operator had struggled to sell the destination. "Most people's idea of the Bahamas was that it was very American and too commercialised," he said.

However, a certain amount of rebranding has taken place since then, and efforts by the BTOhave helped to change the public's perception of the islands.

BTO general manager Jeremy Bonnet said: "The public's image of the Bahamas is by and large incorrect. The general perception is that it's just one large, built-up island.

"This year's advertising campaign is promoting the unexpected nature of the Bahamas."

The traditional Caribbean image of the Out Islands has been a focus of the BTO's promotional efforts.

People looking for all-inclusive upmarket packages are generally drawn to the luxury of the large hotels in Nassau but the properties in the Out Islands are smaller and more representative of the islands' long history.

The influence of 18th-century American settlers is clearly visible in the Out Islands with their colourful versions of the Victorian architecture that can be found in New England.

It is possible to combine overnight visits to one or two of the Out Islands with a stay on Nassau on New Providence Island in a typical seven-night package.

However in the past, poor transfer links have deterred people from island-hopping.

But Bonnet said this situation is slowly improving. A fast ferry now runs between Nassau and Harbour Island, and improvements to the islands' airport infrastructure are expected soon.

To capitalise on improving transport links, Cosmos sister company Distant Dreams is offering a brand new island-hopping package in the Bahamas. The six-night 'safari' includes a night in Nassau staying at the revamped British Colonial Hilton, as well as stays on Long island, Exuma and Cat Island. Prices lead in at £1,295 including return flights from the UK, accommodation and all light aircraft transfers.

While the promotional spotlight has been on the Out Islands, Nassau has been busy upgrading its existing infrastructure with a number of high-profile hotel redevelopments under way. Sun International's Atlantis Hotel on Paradise Island unveiled its new Royal Tower extension at the end of 1998, doubling the total number of rooms to 2,400.

The rest of the hotel was subject to a full refurbishment which began in 1994 and was finished last year.

Two more hotels - the British Colonial Hilton in Nassau and the Lucayan on Grand Bahama - have followed suit, and are set to reopen later in the year.

However, a lack of three-star hotels on the islands pushes the majority of Bahamian holidays into the luxury end of the market.

With typical lead-in prices for a seven night stay starting at over £1,083 for seven nights, the target market is firmly in the over-30s bracket , with empty-nesters and senior citizens making up a significant portion of visitors.

And with Caribtours' lead-in price for a similar holiday in Jamaica starting at £861, the islands' expensive image is going to be difficult to shake off.


This is a community-moderated forum.
All post are the individual views of the respective commenter and are not the expressed views of Travel Weekly.
By posting your comments you agree to accept our Terms & Conditions.

More in News