The Bahamas is at risk of a tourism slowdown if it doesn’t push back against the media’s focus on a recent State Department travel alert.
The Bahamas saw a January slowdown in short-term rental bookings — and, to a lesser extent, hotel reservations — following news reports about an uptick in murders and a U.S. State Department alert to travelers.
In January, short-term bookings fell 7.3% compared to the same month in 2023 after seeing months of growth, according to AirDNA.
Reservations per property and occupancy at short-term rentals were down 10%, according to Key Data.
Hotels, which tend to be concentrated in tourist areas, saw weekly occupancy declines year-over-year between 2% and 14% throughout January, according to CoStar’s STR. But average daily rates rose year-over-year, so higher prices may have played a factor in deterring bookings.
Travel Alert Sparks Alarm About Bahamas
The drops follow a recent travel alert from the U.S. government. On January 24, the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, Bahamas, released an alert that warned U.S. citizens that 18 people had been murdered in Nassau since the start of the year. “Murders have occurred at all hours including in broad daylight on the streets,” it read.
The New York Times, CNN, and CBS News published stories highlighting crime in the Bahamas.
The prime minister’s office released an official statement on January 30 on the Bahamian tourism board’s website, reassuring travelers that the nation is “alert, attentive, and proactive” and that the archipelago “remains a safe and welcoming destination.”
Despite the government’s reassurance, short-term bookings fell 6.4% between January 28th and Feb 3rd compared to the same week last year, according to AirDNA.
In early February, two American tourists were drugged and assaulted at a resort on the Grand Bahama island. Authorities arrested the suspects: two resort staffers. There’s now an ongoing investigation being conducted by the local authorities and the FBI.
The State Department hasn’t changed its guidance level: “The overall Travel Advisory for The Bahamas remains unchanged at Level 2, which advises U.S. citizens to exercise increased caution in The Bahamas due to crime,” a State Department spokesperson told Skift.
Level 2 is behind Level 1, which is the safest category. Under Level 2, the destination is safe for Americans to travel to, but they are advised to be extra cautious once there. Many popular destinations like Morocco, France and the UK have a Level 2 Travel Advisory.
Where the Violence in the Bahamas Is
The murders occurred in an area called “Over the Hill” in Nassau. While the violence is concerning, Over the Hill has been long known to have incidents of gang retaliatory violence, said Frank Comito, a consultant and former CEO and director general of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association.
Most tourists spend time in the resorts and hotels at Baha Mar Blvd and Cable Beach instead. These areas have extensive public security surveillance. On the Cable Beach strip, hundreds of people walk daily.
Nassau was one of the most popular international destinations for Americans in 2023, according to bookings data by Amadeus Market Intelligence.
The Bahamas brought in over 9 million visitors, according to the Bahamas government.
Bahamas Tourism Faces Media Frenzy Danger
Extensive negative media coverage of a portion of a locale can cause massive tourist drops to an entire destination. When wildfires hit the western portion of Maui in August, many tourists canceled or avoided trips to the island. Two months after the fire, tourist spending was roughly $100 million lower than compared to the level in October 2022.
What could make the situation worse is an incident involving a tourist that gains widespread media coverage. Aruba’s tourism industry, for example, took years to recover after the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in 2005, said Comito.