Nassau Paradise Island is just under 200 miles off the coast of Miami. A destination that has long been one of the staples for Americans, Canadians, cruise passengers, and more, the island has suffered just like so many other international destinations because of the pandemic.
However, a relaxation of COVID-19 era rules, and a drop in warning from the CDC, is bringing renewed interest to the island from both consumers and from suppliers anxious to continue to develop properties on the island.
Nassau Paradise Island Promotions Board CEO Fred Lounsberry spoke to TMR this week about the change in level and his expectations for 2022, a year he expects to be strong and the beginning of a “boom phase” for the destination and for The Bahamas in general.
Current Protocols & CDC Ranking
After requiring tests for about two years, there is still a testing requirement to get on the island, but a guest will not be tested while they're there—once you arrive, the only thing travelers will have to worry about is the restrictions on their return trip home.
According to Lounsberry, other pandemic restrictions on the island are also winding down as the case numbers continue to decrease.
“We’re pretty optimistic for the rest of the year,” he told TMR. “The next step is waiting on the U.S. fto take the return test off.”
That optimism is also helped by the recent news from the CDC, which officially dropped the warning level for travel to the Bahamas to Level 2: Moderate. The drop comes just two weeks after the CDC lowered the rating from Level 4: Do Not Travel to Level 3: Very High on March 10.
What Is the Bahamas Health Visa?
Even with the current protocols winding down and returning to normal, one thing that is still in place is the Bahamas Health Visa, which has been an entry requirement for a lot of Caribbean destinations.
The visa costs $40 per person, but there’s a misconception about that cost, Lounsberry said. What that $40 gets you is essentially COVID health insurance should you test positive prior to your return home.
“It’s not a $40 fee,” he said. “What you’re really buying is travel insurance at a pretty reasonable rate.”
Who Is the Ideal Client?
“We are so diverse,” Lounsberry said, adding that there is not necessarily an ideal guest for the destination, though families, couples, and groups tend to fill up the island’s resorts and cruise passengers continue to flock through Nassau’s port. It is much better to match a client with a property on the island (more on that below) rather than the island itself.
U.S. travelers have long been the destination’s biggest market, followed by Canada and then the U.K. More air service makes the U.S. an easier feeder market, but additions from other countries including Canada and the U.K. could see those markets take off this year and next, Lounsberry added.
In terms of when consumers typically like to go to the island, Lounsberry said the pattern is similar to Orlando with high seasons happening when school is out and tourism starting to taper off when schools reopen each fall. There are shoulder seasons when groups tend to come more often than families, but in general, the typical North American vacation patterns apply.
What Is New?
Travelers who have not been to the island since COVID-19 started are going to be greeted by a number of new properties, including some from hospitality’s most iconic names.
One is the new Margaritaville Beach Resort Nassau, which is now open in downtown Nassau, within walking distance to the city’s cruise ship terminals. That resort, which offers itself as a laid-back beach oasis, offers two separate towers totaling 300 rooms, including 68 suites with direct views of the beach.
Another is Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort, which just reopened at the beginning of 2022 after being completely reimagined. The resort now includes over 200 fully renovated rooms and suites and a new Island Village, the pastel-colored village, inspired by the Bahamas.
Melia Nassau Beach is currently closed, undergoing its own $100 million renovation. The plan is for the resort to reopen in spring 2023 following an extensive refurbishment in all areas of the property.
Baha Mar just recently opened a $200 million luxury beachfront water park last summer that includes more than 30 different water attractions along with luxury cabanas, retail venues, and a casino.
There’s more to come, too, including a new resort from Grammy winner Pharrell Williams called Somewhere Else. That resort is still a couple of years away from opening (the debut is slated for 2024 right now), but it’s already highly anticipated because of its affiliation with Williams along with Shawn Sullivan of the Rockwell Group, who is going to lead the redesign.
Outside of properties, Nassau Cruise Port is in the middle of a $250 million port redevelopment project that is ongoing and will finish sometime this year. The renovation will allow for another berth for a large cruise ship, giving it six total berths for mega-ships like Oasis of the Seas.
There is also the addition of known traveler programs. Travelers registered with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) PreCheck program will now be able to use it at the Lynden Pindling International Airport in Nassau. The new location is the first TSA international location in the Caribbean and one of 16 locations outside of the U.S.