Latin America has the capacity to become the Bahamas's second largest contributor of tourism arrivals surpassed only by the United States, according to director general of tourism David Johnson.
Mr Johnson was speaking to the graduates of the College of the Bahamas's first Spanish for the Tourism Workplace class - the existence of which, he said, is an acknowledgment of the fact that there are "substantial business opportunities" for the Bahamas in emerging Latin American markets.
"We are determined to make the most of those opportunities," Mr Johnson said. "No doubt, there are those who still may not see the possibilities that are now before us. However, let me assure you that the potential gains are quite substantial."
The College partnered with the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation and the Bahamas Hotel Association to launch the course.
It was created to compliment the Bahamas' pursuit of additional Latin American visitors and the start of regularly scheduled flights to Nassau from Panama City by Copa Airlines.
As COB graduated more than 150 students from the first class, Mr Johnson pointed out that the introduction of the course showed that Bahamians are committed to advancing tourism and growing new markets.
Central and South America presently is the Bahamas' fourth largest source of visitors. However, Mr Johnson pointed out that many more tourists can come from the region.
Mr Johnson said Panama is the fastest growing country in Latin America, with an economy that grew by eight per cent a year between 2005 and 2010.
In addition, TheEconomist.com on July 14 highlighted Panama's open economy, calling it the Singapore of Central America.
"The International Monetary Fund predicts that Panama's economy will grow at least another six per cent per year over the next five years, and it is on course to overtake Costa Rica and Venezuela in per capita GDP," he said.
"When we add the fact that Panama is one of the five richest countries in mainland Latin America, we have close to an ideal market for our tourism destinations. Now, we have a major player in the airline industry of the Americas linking us with this very lucrative market."
Mr Johnson said language has always been one of the barriers to growth in visitors from Spanish-speaking countries.
The Bahamas has removed challenges in airlift by attracting Copa and it is now removing the language barrier by training Bahamians to interact effectively with guests, he said.
Stuart Bowe, president of the Bahamas Hotel Association, said there is tremendous untapped potential for tourism from Latin American countries.
"Just under two per cent of our current visitors come from Latin America as opposed to just under 90 per cent that come from the United States and Canada," Mr Bowe said. "Yet, the population of Latin America, which is about 500 million, is as large as that of the US and Canada. In fact, it will soon surpass it.
"Next to Southeast Asia, India and China, it is the fastest growing middle class and wealth class in the world. In the past 10 years, 56 million people have joined the ranks of the middle class in Latin America and, like the United States, it is practically next door to us."
Dr Panadora Johnson, COB's vice president in charge of outreach, thanked the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation and the Bahamas Hotel Association for partnering with COB to present the course.
"I want to thank the Ministry of Tourism for acknowledging and recognising that the College of the Bahamas' role is to provide training in response to the needs of society," Dr Johnson said.
Ministry of Tourism employees, airline workers, hotel employees and other tourism workers participated in the Spanish for the Tourism Workplace course.
Source: The Tribune