Report: Latin America Arrivals Up 88%

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The Bahamas saw double-digit growth in arrivals last year in three Latin American markets, picking up the slack from European counties still in the depths of financial crisis.

According to an official report from the Ministry of Tourism, put together in collaboration with consultant Indusa Global, the country's top markets – U.S. and Canada – recorded a modest 3 percent and 4 percent improvement respectively compared to 2011.

Those jurisdictions were all but dwarfed by surges from Latin America countries.

Panama, chiefly due to Copa Airlines’ direct flight to Nassau, produced 51 percent more arrivals in 2012 compared to the previous year. Columbia jumped 19 percent in 2012 and Brazil came in with an equally impressive 11 percent improvement.

Venezuela also came in with a solid seven percent rise. What it adds up to is an 88 percent surge from Latin American destinations.

The report noted that the data represents the period from January until the end of November. December, typically a busy time in The Bahamas, was not fully collected at the time of publication.

While the numbers may be encouraging, the Ministry of Tourism feels that it's simply scratching the surface. The lion's share of these arrivals come through Panama and Copa's direct service. Therefore, officials are hopeful that 2013 could see a direct flight from an additional city on the continent.

"We expect to see continued steady growth from the Latin America markets," said Stuart Bowe, the president of the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA). "A team from the Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board, the Ministry of Tourism and the Nassau Airport Development Company has met with several airlines to explore the possibility of direct service from Brazil."

The rise of $3.5 billion Baha Mar in Nassau, expected to open late 2014, is a big reason why both the private and public sectors are scrambling to boost air arrivals. It has been estimated that the country requires a 30 percent boost per year (based on current trends) just to keep pace with the thousands of rooms coming online from Baha Mar.

For now, Latin America's success has acted as a much-needed hedge to declining arrivals from European destinations.

The report, obtained by Guardian Business, goes on to detail a 13 percent decline in tourism arrivals from France, a 15 percent drop from Italy, a nine percent fall from the Netherlands and a seven percent dive from Spain.

Germany improved by four percent, but the region came in with a total 40 percent plunge. Uncertainly in the Eurozone will likely result in shaky results from that region for some time.

"The Bahamas continues to have representation in Europe, but we are likely not to see significant growth until the European economies improve. The arrivals results from Latin America point clearly to the strategic promotion and airlift investments made there nearly two years ago," Bowe told Guardian Business.

The report also broke down the arrivals in 2012 by island. As expected, New Providence and Paradise Island made up the vast majority, coming in at 894,155 arrivals.

Grand Bahama saw just 152,051 arrivals, while Abaco had 75,867 and Bimini 46,524.

The government, since coming into power last May, has stressed a renewed focus on Family Island development through infrastructure spending and the approval of resort and manufacturing projects.

JEFFREY TODD,
The Nassau Guardian
Published: January 7, 2013