Bahamas the
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The people’s business

This first statement is not meant to be an analogy or an example. What I am about to claim is the factual truth. The people of The Bahamas own and operate a business enterprise. Each one of us is a shareholder in the business and we depend on that business to provide us with real, bankable profits. The business is called tourism, and it sells whatever we wish to share of our country’s story. In this discussion I will describe the business environment as a mall (perhaps we will call it the Destination Mall). In our mall, which is owned by the citizens of the country, we sell our stories in shops called attractions. These mostly privately owned attractions are arranged in categories called place, history, beliefs and lifestyle, and there are five types of attractions to be found: tours, events, retail attractions, resorts and published attractions. The attractions are either individually owned and operated, or operated by the mall on behalf of its owners. The destination depends on the success of these attraction-shops and the re-investment of their profits to expand the mall. There are, however, shops in the mall that are not locally owned and whose profits do not contribute to the mall’s expansion, but because they employ locals, they contribute to the stability of the business environment. Generally, they are on the periphery of the mall, and on occasion their customers may enter the mall to shop. The strategic direction of the mall is government’s responsibility and they have chosen the Ministry of Tourism as its general manager.

Unfortunately, the owners of the mall (the Bahamian people) don’t know that they own the mall. They think it is owned by the government, who grants licenses in the mall on the basis of its generosity. Further, having determined that finding jobs is the most important benefit they can offer their citizens, the government has decided that growing the foreign-owned, peripheral businesses should be a national policy. They therefore provide them with whatever resources they can muster, including helping them get their customers. Not much is left for for creating a marketing strategy for driving customers to the people’s Destination Mall. As a result, the mall is practically empty. Its attraction-shops are mostly closed and those that are open struggle, hoping for business from the few customers that straggle in from the foreign-owned shops. Their income is meager, and is therefore not reported to the owners. Instead the general manager presents glowing reports of the number of customers in the general area, mostly the customers of the foreign-owned businesses. Few of whom shop in the mall.

The managers of the mall (government) know that for a business to succeed it must have customers of its own, salable product and profits. Yet they do not seem to connect the derelict condition of the mall with the absence of mall customers or the lack of product for sale, and they continue to rely on the beauty of the mall building to attract customers. Clearly, it’s not working. Partly because they don’t realize they own the business, the shareholders (and the managers) also ignore industry reports that the Destination Mall is the worst in the region, with practically no salable product, and that few of the mall’s shops have profits to re-invest. Local investors therefore have no confidence in the mall as a business environment and consider tourism a risky investment. Yet management regularly declares the expectation that the mall will expand.

But the need to tell our own story is not primarily to support our national business. It is a fundamental requirement for the healthy development of our community, and the fact that we have neglected to celebrate the specialness of our place, history, belief systems and our lifestyle has left both an absence of product for our business and a lack of support for the rearing of our children. The fact that we are no longer telling our own story is detrimental to our children’s self-image, who are bombarded with other stories in the global media, challenging both the passage of values and the sense of pride in who and what they are. Contrary to what I have heard from some young people, the business of tourism is not a threat to our culture. Not having a significant display of our culture in our environment is the greater threat to our culture. Tourism gives us the opportunity to “show off” our culture while building a wealthy economy.

But for that we need our Destination Mall to refocus its management, first to create a significant stock of attraction-shops selling our Bahamian story through tours, retail attractions, events, resorts and print and media publications; then to focus its marketing efforts on driving customers directly into our Destination Mall. While we appreciate the spillover business from the foreign-owned shops, our primary income is derived from our own customers, those we call “stopover” visitors to the Destination Mall. The record shows that a customer coming directly to the Destination Mall spends up to 16 times as much as one that comes from the foreign-owned shop. For the mall to succeed we must have our own customers. For the mall to grow the attraction-shops must succeed and reinvest their profits.

The business of tourism once provided wealth and development in The Bahamas, as it does in dozens of cities and countries globally. For us it no longer does. As owners and managers, we should be very concerned.

• Pat Rahming is an architect, writer and songwriter who is passionate about the importance of the built environment and its importance to the social development of The Bahamas. He can be reached at or via his blog “From the Black Book” at He welcomes other points of view.