Visitor numbers to the Bahamas have surpassed pre-pandemic levels in recent months as air links resume and consumer confidence grows.
And the Caribbean destination expects its recovery to strengthen with the addition of twice-weekly Virgin Atlantic services from Heathrow, which began on November 20.
Anthony Stuart, the Bahamas Tourist Office’s director for Europe, India and the Middle East, explained the UK is the nation’s third-biggest source market, after the US and Canada.
He was speaking to Travel Weekly in the Bahamas as he showcased the destination’s hotels and attractions as part of a Virgin Atlantic media trip to mark the route launch.
The Bahamas welcomed 37,000 travellers from the UK in 2019, and Stuart said: “Over the past few months – September, October and November – we have outpaced 2019 figures as flights have increased, the market is up and hotels are open again”.
Virgin Atlantic’s twice-weekly services are in addition to six flights a week with British Airways.
“People in the UK are ready to take trips again,” said Stuart. “They feel more confident and are looking forward to their holidays. They want somewhere easy to reach, somewhere safe – and we are learning to live with, and adapt to [Covid].”
The tourist board is also seeing Brits booking longer duration holidays, with the average stay now 14 days, compared to 10.5 in 2019. “We are seeing more multigenerational holidays too,” said Stuart. “Which means lucrative bookings to villas in the outer islands as these families seek seclusion and social distancing.”
Another boost for the island’s recovery is the return of the cruise market, which accounted for 26,000-30,000 visitors a day in pre-pandemic times, generating a total of five million visitors in 2019 – out of a total seven million.
The Bahamas is now welcoming up to five ships a day, including those of Carnival Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Disney Cruise Line, MSC Cruises and Virgin Voyages.
“We are getting more calls from travel agents asking for information and we are doing more online seminars,” he said. “Agents can play a key role in advising customers about what’s new.”
He said a key new development is the recently-opened Margaritaville Beach Resort in downtown Nassau, which has a range of restaurants plus activities such as a water park and surf lagoon.
A further boost to business has come from the US opening up again to international tourists, offering Brits the option for ‘shop and flop’ holidays, combining an American city break with a holiday in the Bahamas, said Stuart.
The tourist board has also seen growth in groups and conference bookings, and demand for ‘workations’, thanks to its ‘Beats’ [Bahamas Extended Access Travel Stay] programme.
The tourist office recently launched a major publicity drive in London with images on taxis and a call to action to book with Virgin Atlantic; plus electronic displays at commuter tube stations and the departures and arrivals halls at Heathrow’s Terminal 3.
Stuart added that the service from London to Nassau “opens up the market – not only from the UK but across Europe, the Middle East and India because of the airline’s connections at Heathrow, and connections with KLM, Delta and Air France”.
Pictured: Paradise Island and the Atlantis Resort, Nassau, Bahamas, by Pola Damonte/Shutterstock