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History of Tourism in the Bahamas

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In 1740, Peter Henry Bruce, a military engineer from England was sent to The Bahamas to make some repairs to forts in Nassau. He was so impressed by the Islands Of The Bahamas and the climate that he recommended that they would aid in the speedy recovery of persons suffering from illnesses.

Mr. Samuel Cunard, a Canadian businessman, who owned a transatlantic fleet of ships, was contacted to provide a monthly service between New York and Nassau. Therefore, in 1859 the “Karnak”, a paddle wheel steamer, made the first trip between New York and Nassau.

During the Civil War in The United States between the North and the South, Nassau experienced a boost to the tourism industry due to the blockage runners and affluent southerners who wished to exchange goods. This boost to Tourism caused a need for hotel accommodation. Hence, in 1861, The Royal Victoria Hotel was opened. With the increase in hotel inventory, there was now a great need to attract a tourists to fill the rooms.

British Army Surgeon, Major Bacot, writing in 1869 pointed out that the climate and the healthiness of the Islands made them ideal for tourists.

The greatest problem was getting or encouraging tourists to the islands. Acts passed in 1851, 1859, and 1879 to encourage the travel of tourists to The Bahamas by ships never really proved successful, as many sea disasters occurred.

Encouraged by the arrival of 500 tourists to Nassau in 1875, Governor Robinson suggested that The Bahamas make an effort to divert some of the 100,000 tourists, who were going annually to Florida. Making a step in the right direction, a most important hotel and steamship act was passed in 1898 and a ten year contract was signed with H.M. Flager, founding father and Czar of Miami, who also brought the Royal Victoria Hotel.

Purchasing the site of Fort Nassau, he built the Hotel Colonial, which was destroyed by fire in 1922. The Government repurchased the site, and signed a ten year lease with Bahamas Hotel Company, a Subsidiary of the Munroe Steamship Line, who in turn built and completed the New Colonial Hotel in 1922-3. The Montagu Hotel followed in 1927, but now the problem was filling these hotels with people.

The Muson Co., the Royal Mail Line, and a treaty with Canada in 1925, provided The Islands Of The Bahamas with steamship service from New York, Britain and Canada.

In 1891, the Telegraph Act was passed, and the following year, Cable Beach Nassau was connected by cable to Jupiter Florida, which made it possible to send messages to the United States and even England.

The greatest contributing factor to bringing tourists to The Bahamas, was the First World War, when thousands of Bahamians left their lovely shores for other countries or came to Nassau from the Family of Out Islands, bringing them in closer contact to the outside world.

The days of prohibition which followed in the United States in 1919 came as a blessing to The Islands Of The Bahamas, who list their prospective after the war; the streets and towns were full of visitors and racketeers, making a quick dollar transporting liquor to the United States.

The side effect, was that The Bahamas enjoyed a land investment boom; Pan American instituted a daily 2 1/2 hr flight from Miami in 1929. The rich were everywhere, but this was not to last. In 1929, the stock market in the United States crashed causing a world slump that put an end to the Tourist boom.

Sir Harry Oakes, a wealthy Canadian businessman was persuaded to leave Canada to invest in Nassau. He built the first airport here at Oakes Field; he purchased and re-christened the New Colonial Hotel, The British Colonial Hotel. Frightened by the horrors of the Second World War, many Europeans flocked to The Bahamas, land investments went up, and by 1943, two airports had been built in Nassau. The war ended in 1945, but this time tourism was to experience a lift.

AFTER 1945

With little arable land and no mineral deposit, except salt, tourism as an export industry was first encouraged in 1949. There had existed for several years before this time an overall development budget of roughly 96,000 pounds. In the four years prior to 1950, tourism arrivals to The Bahamas numbered about 32,000. This figure has now increased to over one million visitors per annum.

One of the main natural advantages which The Islands Of The Bahamas has, is its proximity to the high-income population of North America. The inhabitants of this noisy, modern continent feel and increasing need to escape from the tensions caused by industrialization. The Islands Of The Bahamas offer perfect retreats; the natural beauty, white sandy beaches, clear translucent waters, sporting activities, friendly inhabitants and slow pace of the islands make them ideal. However, the largest single factor in attracting tourists to The Islands Of The Bahamas has been the promotion undertaken by the tourism arm of The Bahamas Government.

After the General Election in 1949, the new young members of the House of Assembly gained support for their idea that tourism could bring prosperity to the islands. In 1950, the Development Board was revitalized and the Legislature voted to contribute 156,000 pounds for tourism promotion, most of which was used for overseas promotion. The results were dramatic, in 1951, the number of visitors increased to 68,502, more than double the annual level for the 1946-1950 period.

In 1964, with the introduction of Internal Self-Government, the Development Board was replaced by the Ministry of Tourism. The Promotion of Tourism Act (ch.13 January 1964) empowers the Government to appoint a Minister to be charged with the overall responsibility for the promotion of tourism. The idea behind this Act was to create a Ministry that could act in a more flexible manner, and was not subject to the rigid procedures and bureaucratic controls and delays. Staff are not civil servants and all authority concerning appointments, terminations, discipline and other personal matters, rest with the Minister.

The then Minister of Tourism, was the late Sir Stafford Sands a successful lawyer and politician, who is often referred to as the “father of tourism” because of his pioneering efforts in guiding the early development of the industry. He was assisted by advertising and public relations representatives under contract, a well organized News Bureau and Sales Office in the United States, Canada and London. However, the head office structure was relatively weak.

With the defeat of the UBP Government in January, 1967, Sir Stafford went into exile and died in 1972. With the change of government, the Prime Minister, the Hon. L.O. Pindling, recognizing the importance of tourism to the economy, took upon himself the portfolio of Minister of Tourism and Development. Apart from the sales Office and News Bureau staff and contracted Public Relations Representatives, there were only fourteen employees on the head office staff of the Ministry. The Prime Minister set to work reconstructing the organization, and the visitor arrivals continued to increase.

Towards the end of 1968, it became increasingly clear to the Prime Minister that the management of tourism should be in the hands of someone who could devote himself more fully to this effort. Hence, early in 1969, he relinquished the portfolio to the Hon. Arthur Foulkes, who became Minister of Tourism and Telecommunications.

In September, 1969, the management of tourism again changed hands when the Hon. Clement T. Maynard succeeded the Hon. A. Foulkes. Minister Maynard, who held the Tourism portfolio for 10 years, longer than any other Minister, built a professional organization, leaving behind a record of unparalleled success.

In October, 1979, the Honourable Livingstone Coakley, succeeded the Honourable Clement T. Maynard as Minister of Tourism. He held the portfolio until June, 1982, when the Honourable Perry Christie, formerly Minister of Health, assumed the portfolio of Minister of Tourism. While the strong promotional efforts overseas continued, Minister Christie placed emphasis on product development to ensure that the unique features of the Bahamas were highlighted and preserved.

In 1984, the Honourable Clement T. Maynard was renamed Minister of Tourism and served in this post for a further period of six years. In October, 1990 he was succeeded by Sir Lynden Pindling who served as Minister of Tourism until August 1992 when the Progressive Liberal Party was defeated in the 1992 General elections by the Free National Movement. The Free National Movement Senator, Brent Symonette was appointed as Minister of Tourism.

Management of Tourism again changed hands in January, 1995, when the Honourable Frank H. Watson was appointed Minister of Tourism.

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