Grand Bahama has always been an island that I admired for its diversity and ability to offer every visitor the best of both worlds; a tropical hideaway with a city flare. An island with approximately 51,756 people, covering an area of 1,373 sq km, Grand Bahama is the most northerly of The Bahama Islands. This island boasts some of the best diving sites, including one of the world’s largest underwater cave systems and encourages eco tourism with its many nature sites and tourist attractions. Popular with the wedding and honeymoon market, because of its romantic feel and beautiful landscape, it’s no wonder why this island is known for encouraging many developing romances.
My earlier memories of Grand Bahama Island are as a teenager in the 1980’s, competing in the Anglican Schools Triangular Sports Meet, with Freeport High, St John’s College and St. Anne’s High School, the latter being my Alma Mater. I remember how clean the Island was and the many tourists that paraded the streets in the twin cities of Freeport/Port Lucaya. It was a buzzing atmosphere and Freeport was known by the locals throughout The Bahamas as desirable and extravagant, for the many international guests and celebrities it attracted. It certainly had a lot to offer, with its first class resorts, international shops, world-class cuisine, top rated casino and cultural shows. Jobs were plentiful in the tourist industry and suddenly many Bahamians began to relocate to the island for job prospects. Throughout the 1990’s, it was the top choice for many visitors when considering an island getaway; Europeans flocked to Grand Bahama every year, with many repeat visits. With regular and daily airlift coming in from America, Canada and Europe, getting to the island was easy and affordable. It was during this time that I commenced my employment with The Ministry of Tourism, based in the UK office. This job posting allowed me the opportunity to travel throughout The Bahamas and Europe, gaining first hand experience in the tourism industry. Because of this opportunity, I had an even greater appreciation for my country. This made me realise how important the locals are to the success of a country highly dependant on tourism. I loved my job, and I was extremely passionate about it.
In 2001, I hosted my first educational trip to Grand Bahama for fifteen UK wedding/honeymoon tour operators and a journalist. Grand Bahama was the second Island we visited as part of an eight-night trip around the Islands of The Bahamas. From the moment we arrived until the time we left, our stay was unforgettable. We were hosted to a sample wedding ceremony at the Garden of the Groves, which is a 12-acre garden full of tropical plants and animals and one of three national parks on the island. The dolphin encounter excursion was truly a magical experience, as our guests got an opportunity to embrace these enchanting animals, with a hug and a kiss. The boat ride through the mangroves was an adventure and showed some of our ecological wonders. The bonfire and cultural show at Taino beach was thrilling, with fire dancers, local live music, an authentic Bahamian dinner and lots of arts and crafts on display. Grand Bahama charmed us all! On our final day of the trip, we toured West End. it is amazing to see the change in scenery from the busy town, shops, restaurants and activities the city of Freeport has to offer, to the tranquil, quiet atmosphere of sparsely populated West End. I likened it to driving from day to night, the change could not have been more obvious; yet, we were on the same island enjoying a completely different experience. In West End, there are fewer accommodation choices, the shops are convenient and modestly stocked and life seemed simple and carefree. The friendly, charming personality of the Bahamian people clearly stood out, with everyone greeting you like an old friend.
Fast forward to 2017, things have certainly changed in Grand Bahama. Tourists no longer frequent the island as before; airlift from international destinations are few and far between, and the island is a far cry from the bustling atmosphere of the 80’s and 90’s. It is fair to say that Grand Bahama has somewhat dropped off the radar in terms of top tourist destinations. What has happened to this once desirable island? Well, many argue that the island did not adapt to change in the very competitive tourist industry. The successful business practices, which was once prevalent in the 80’s and 90’s no longer worked in the present economy. Investments on the island are in decline and young Grand Bahamians are migrating abroad for ‘a better life’, opting not to stay and contribute to a lack-lustre economy. Some also argue that the tourist industry has forgotten about Grand Bahama. Whatever the reason, the beauty of the island is undeniable, although in need of rejuvenation, with young fresh ideas and entrepreneurs that can contribute to the growth of the economy. One thing is certain, Grand Bahamians are passionate people, with a real love for their Island and I have no doubt that Grand Bahama, once the most popular of the Bahama Islands, will once again bounce back as a desirable tourist destination.