COCOCAY, Bahamas — As tourists zipped down water slides and zigzagged between bustling shops, crowded pools and cabanas, it would be difficult to say that things at Royal Caribbean International’s private island, Perfect Day at CocoCay, were anything other than the name advertised Sunday, only a week since the passage of Hurricane Dorian.
Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” was even blasting from the speakers at one point.
The island, just 30 miles from where the eye wall of Dorian carved a path of destruction across the northern Bahamas, welcomed its first cruise ships back over the weekend — at least one of which, just last week, was offloading supplies in the ravaged city of Freeport and picking up evacuees heading to Nassau.
So is the case in the Bahamas now: In an archipelago that counts the $4.3 billion tourism industry as king — it makes up more than 50 percent of its gross domestic product — vacations exist alongside relief efforts.
In Nassau, tourists perused the shops by the port while on the other side of the city, ships ferried in hundreds of evacuees from the Abacos, where Dorian hit, many of them hungry, newly homeless and carrying with them only the shirts on their backs.
Even in CocoCay, where all seems in regular order, hundreds of people worked tirelessly after the passage of the storm to clear the debris, bricks and sand that had washed in with Dorian so that by Saturday, travelers could do what they do best — spend money.
But the ensuing months are more uncertain. Will people skip the Bahamas altogether because they think Dorian devastated the entire chain, when in reality it hit two out of the more than 700 islands in the archipelago? Geography suddenly becomes critically important.
“A lot of persons think all of the Bahamas is gone, the entire thing,” Sawyer said. “You know, something like this, even around the world, when people see devastation like this they tend to hold back ... on what they plan on doing.”
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It’s a perception issue that the Caribbean has faced time and again when pelted with hurricanes. And for a region of the world that depends on people thinking it’s safe enough to travel there, getting that message out is in a way a part of the relief effort.
Ellison Thompson, deputy director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation, said the ministry is working around the clock to tell the world that top destinations such as Nassau, the Exumas, Eleuthera and Bimini are doing fine.
“In order for the reconstruction to happen, we would need our visitors to keep coming, so taxes can be used to aid in the reconstruction of those two islands,” Abaco and Grand Bahama, where Dorian hit, Thompson told the Orlando Sentinel.
Preliminary estimates put the cost of the damage at $7 billion, according to Bloomberg.
An aggressive message is crucial in the days and weeks following the storm, said Robertico Croes, an expert with the University of Central Florida who studies tourism economics in small and developing countries.
“The whole thing here is speed,” Croes said. “The quicker they can convince everybody that the southern part has not been affected and business can go on there and, as a matter of fact, it’s a good thing for business to go there, then (the faster) the south can help the north.”
Working in the Bahamas’ favor is U.S. residents’ familiarity with the region, Croes said. It’s the top market in terms of visitors to the islands, and Americans will still travel there.