Nassau Paradise Island’s tourism history goes back almost 125 years, with the first Hotel and Steam Ship Act being passed in 1898! This was to be the first step towards the development of hotels and what is now a burgeoning cruise industry. In 1914 the Bahamian government set up a Tourism Development Board, with the princely marketing budget of £3000, but it wasn’t until 1919 that the first seaplane service was started between Florida and The Bahamas. Mind you, this coincided with the introduction of Prohibition in the United States so perhaps the passengers had more interest in rum running than tourism back then!
Pan Am started flying its own seaplanes into Nassau in 1941 and by 1949 the destination could boast that it had received 32,000 tourists! These were predominantly from the USA and Europe, and most only visited during a short, four-month season over the winter. By 1950 the annual tourism marketing budget was $500,000, and that’s when the first tourist offices were opened overseas in the USA and Europe. By the time of ANTOR’s inception, 1952, The Bahamas were receiving almost 100,000 visitors per year.
Things really took a change for the better when the blockade between the USA and Cuba started in 1961, and US tourists who had enjoyed the glamour, the casinos and the nightlife of Havana were forced to look elsewhere for their vacation playground. The Bahamas, being only 50 miles off the coast of Florida at its nearest point were the next most obvious destination, and the tourism economy boomed. By 1968 the country had its first 1 million visitor year. It still had a leading advantage over many of the other Caribbean countries who had not yet embraced tourism but preferred to build their economies on things like oil, mining, agriculture and fisheries. However, that was all about to change.
In the early 1970’s The Bahamas gained their independence from the UK. Unfortunately, this led to some uncertainty among international investors who pulled out of the hotels, leaving the government to pick up the pieces. Tourism suffered under this burden until the early 1980’s when the investment started to return. 1982 saw the opening of Britannia Beach, which is now The Coral at Atlantis Paradise Island. The 690-room Cable Beach Hotel was opened – later becoming a Radisson, then a Sheraton and finally a Melia. Cruising continued to grow and started to dominate, representing more than 50% of all arrivals..
Competition was hotting up from other islands as well, with Aruba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and also Cancun in Mexico introducing all-inclusive hotels and pursuing volume-producing strategies. By the early 1990's the Bahamian government was able to shed its burden and sell the hotels back into the private sector. Along came Sandals Resorts who took over and redeveloped the Royal Bahamian. SuperClubs bought the Wyndham Ambassador Beach and introduced Breezes, whilst Sol Kerzner began what was eventually to become an almost $1billion investment on Paradise Island, and Atlantis was born, first opening its doors in 1994. Leaping forward to 2017 the destination’s newest resort, Baha Mar, brought 2300 more rooms into the mix, with the stunning Grand Hyatt, SLS and Rosewood resorts, helping to elevate the passenger arrivals to over 6 million that year.
Now, as the world emerges from the ravages of the Pandemic, the destination of Nassau Paradise Island is even better positioned to continue its growth trajectory. Even during the difficult times in 2020 and 2021 new development continued and Nassau can now boast a brand new waterpark at Baha Bay, a stunning new resort in the heart of downtown in the form of Margaritaville Beach Resort and a reimagined Sandals Royal Bahamian which reopened its doors in January following a $37m renovation. Things are definitely looking bright, and we can still confidently boast that #ItsBetterInTheBahamas!