By developing its destinations and learning from the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, “the Caribbean will be unstoppable,” says Latia Duncombe, Acting Director General of Tourism, Investments and Aviation for The Bahamas.
Speaking during the Destination Media Briefings at the periphery of the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s (CTO) business meetings held in the Cayman Islands earlier this month, Duncombe talked about lessons learned from the pandemic.
“One of the things COVID did was, COVID stripped our culture. COVID made some changes, COVID impacted who we were as a people. And all the things that were Bahamian, COVID took away – but only for a season,” said the Bahamian business professional.
“[COVID] helped us to pause and think and it also helped us to hit the reset button. And as we paused and as we thought about what COVID did to us and the things that COVID took away from us, it reminded us of the things that no one can ever take away – the beauty of our Caribbean islands, the warmth of our people, our culture, our history, our heritage.”
Duncombe described how many people stayed connected through technology during the pandemic and enjoyed family time, stepping away from their typical day-to-day, and noted that there is no need to sacrifice the benefits of that slower pace as the region moves beyond the pandemic. “Let’s embrace it, let’s develop what we have, learn from our experience with COVID, and the Caribbean will be unstoppable,” she stated.
Highlighting the importance of inter-regional cooperation, she observed that the relationship The Bahamas has enjoyed with its Caribbean counterparts has been very good through the years: “During COVID we saw that strengthen... because even though we are different in the Caribbean, our islands and who we are as a people can also complement each other.”
Duncombe highlighted how far The Bahamas has come, with events and festivals returning, and airlift is improving with new flights from American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Sunwing and Western Air. As the destination continues to focus on building its airlift, it expects to reach 2019 visitor arrival numbers by the end of 2022.
Duncombe also reported progress on the $300 million Nassau Cruise Port development and new and refreshed hotel developments, including Margaritaville Beach Resort, Sandals Royal Bahamian, and the soon-to-open Goldwynn Resort and Residences.
With 16 distinct island destinations in The Bahamas, an archipelago made up of more than 700 islands, Duncombe and her team also take a “multi-destination” approach to promoting The Bahamas.
“One of the key things for us is, how do we tell our story? How do we share and show the beauty that The Bahamas has to offer? How do we take the here and now that we experience, and connect it to the world?” Duncombe asked, explaining that telling the unique stories of Bahamian experiences has been her team’s mission. Some of the ways they do that include helping visitors create travel itineraries and matching visitors with locals via the legendary “People to People” experiential program.
The former Miss World Bahamas commented: “People migrate to people, people like to hear stories, they like to see, touch and feel unique experiences. And so for us, that’s one of the key things that we’ve sought to do.”