ASTA's first Caribbean Showcase roars into Nassau with 130 travel advisors
Region has bounced back and is open for business, says Bahamas deputy prime minister
Bahamas Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Investment and Aviation Chester Cooper (left) adding his presence to the moment as Alicia McCalla receives a special trophy for being the person behind the staging of the first Caribbean Showcase of the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), which was held at the Sandals Royal Bahamian in Nassau, The Bahamas. Sharing the occasion are Executive Chairman of Sandals Resorts International Adam Stewart (right) and Zane Kerby, president of ASTA. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

NASSAU, The Bahamas The first Caribbean Showcase of the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) roared into Nassau, commercial hub of The Bahamas, Sunday, carrying 130 member travel advisors on board and dispelling any lingering doubts about the recovery of the region's tourism, after the merciless battering it took from two years of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Awaiting the ASTA team led by President Zane Kerby with an enthusiastic welcome dinner at Sandals Royal Bahamian resort were Bahamas' Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Investment and Aviation Chester Cooper, and host, Sandals Resorts International (SRI) Executive Chairman Adam Stewart.

ASTA's activities touch more than 17,000 members across the length and breadth of the United States where it is the largest association of its kind.

"We welcome ASTA's heightened focus on our region, and we look forward to strengthening collaborations with ASTA agents across the various source markets... The Caribbean region is a favourite travel location, and we know that ASTA's entire membership, from President Kerby to the latest member, have a soft spot for our region," Cooper told the packed conference room.

Sandals Resorts International (SRI) Executive Chairman Adam Stewart (right) gets the attention of (from left) Zane Kerby, president of the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), SRI CEO Gebhard Rainer, and Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association President Nicola Madden-Greig, at ASTA's Caribbean Showcase 2022 on Sunday at the Sandals Royal Bahamian in Nassau. (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

More than at anytime in the history of its tourism industry, Cooper said, The Bahamas was laser-focused in its determination to grow and expand its tourism business, because its economic future was at stake.

"The truth is, the impact of an unprecedented hurricane and pandemic arm you with that kind of determination," he said.

Bemoaning the crippling blows from the pandemic that hit when the country was attracting 7.2 million visitors in 2019, he noted that, like the rest of the Caribbean, The Bahamas had successfully navigated its way through and "we are now fully open for business and leveraging the huge global demand for travel that has emerged with the lifting of travel restrictions".

As evidence, the destination welcomed 3.7 million air and cruise visitors between January and July 2022, representing "a whopping 515 per cent increase over the same period in 2021 when our visitor count totalled 597,233".

Stopover visitors totalled 866,036 by July year-to-date 2022, compared to 525,234 in 2021, or an increase of 64.9 per cent. This summer, the major resorts of Nassau and Paradise Island are reporting 80 per cent occupancy, with a positive forecast going into the winter of 2023, he said, adding to applause: "Sandals has something to do with that."

Among plans to further drive tourism, Cooper announced that beginning in September this year through to mid-2023, his Ministry of Tourism, with him at the helm, will be taking The Bahamas to the world in a series of global sales missions called, 'Bringing The Bahamas to You'.

"These missions will take The Bahamas to cities across the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, Dubai, and Latin America. We will be meeting face-to-face with travel advisors and travel media who will get the opportunity to experience a grand Bahamas Showcase: product updates, panel discussions, interviews, tourism forecasts, a trade show and an immersion in Bahamian culture and entertainment.

Chester assured the ASTA team they had "a partner who is determined to succeed in tourism. There is an abundance of airlift from the source markets; there is ease of access to our destination; we are a partner who is travel advisor centric; we are committed to product upgrade and staff training for optimal service deliver".

Kerby, in a welcome address, told the travel advisors that over the course of the four-day Caribbean Showcase 2022, they would be treated to world-class education from ASTA's partner, Sandals, and experience the destination's top selling points first-hand, as they prepared to build a portfolio of offerings for their clients' next Caribbean vacation.

He paid tribute to late SRI founder Gordon "Butch" Stewart, saying he started a love affair with travel advisors (formerly agents), by being the first to emblazon on the side of his private plane 'We love travel agents'.

Speaking for Sandals, CEO Gebhard Rainer welcomed the travel advisors and underscored the importance of the event, noting that ASTA had brought travel advisors from North America, Latin America, and the Caribbean together for the first time.

By Desmond Allen Executive editor - special assignment allend@jamaicaobserver.com

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