Bahamas considering initiatives to address passport issue

The passport issue "will greatly impact the Bahamas as well as the entire region," said Vernice Walkine, director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.

While only between 25% and 30% of U.S. citizens have passports, "our statistics show us that well over half of our U.S. visitors do have passports," the director general said.

However comforting that may be, "even the smallest loss of business affects the bottom line of our tourism industry, which is our primary revenue earner," Walkine pointed out.

The Bahamas may initiate measures such as an advertising and public relations campaign to alert prospective visitors of the new requirements, and incentives to encourage early passport applications. -- G.N.M.

FREEPORT, Bahamas -- Although mega-resort developments dominate the accommodations' picture in the Bahamas, the priority is to maintain "a balance between necessary development for our people's economic prosperity and the cautious restraint necessary to protect our fragile environment," according to Vernice Walkine, director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.

Speaking at the 29th annual Caribbean Tourism Conference, Grand Bahama Island -- which suffered through hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004 and Wilma in 2005 -- "is proof that the business of tourism is resilient. Grand Bahama has survived, and investor confidence has never been higher," Walkine said.

Indicative of that confidence is the 4,400-unit Ginn sur Mer resort community under development on Grand Bahama's West End; the renovation and 24-suite expansion at Old Bahama Bay Resort & Yacht Harbour, also in West End; and the marina expansion at Grand Bahama Yacht Club in Port Lucaya, which will include 300 mega-yacht slips.

On New Providence, the 600-room, all-suite Cove Atlantis will open in March as will a $700 million water park with water slides, and Dolphin Cay, a dolphin lagoon and education center which includes rescued dolphins that had been left homeless after Hurricane Katrina.

Also on New Providence is Baha Mar, the $1.6 billion redevelopment of Cable Beach in Nassau that includes a 3,550-room resort complex, which "is pushing New Providence to new heights," according to Walkine.

"Although the government's strategy of establishing anchor properties on major islands is often misunderstood for being one-dimensional and inappropriate for the Out Islands," Walkine said, "the fact is that this strategy has proven successful."

As the case study, she cited the Four Seasons Resort on Exuma, which she described as "the catalyst to economic development."

On Great Exuma, the Emerald Bay Resort opened a casino last May and 72 Caribbean-style villas; Cotton Bay Estates & Villas on Eleuthera will open phase one of its villa units in fall 2007; and Bimini Bay Resort & Casino on North Bimini recently opened 95 residential rentals in a development project that will include a Conrad Hotel and casino.

Along with the benefits accrued from economic development come "new business opportunities for Bahamians."

Walkine emphasized that the Bahamas' development plan is built on "a foundation of social justice. We are not seeking to make dollars and cents the only criteria for building new tourist facilities."

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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