A month after Dorian, the Bahamas still needs aid — but officials say it needs tourists even more
'If we're going to help those islands rebuild ... people need to visit our country,' says tourism minister
As parts of the Bahamas continue cleaning up a month on from Hurricane Dorian, the country's tourism minister says they're still open for business.
Dionisio D'Aguilar says media reports about the hurricane's devastating effects have focused on the Bahamas as a whole, rather than just the two affected islands.
That's pushing away travellers and much needed tourism revenue to help support rebuilding efforts, he says.
"We're a country based almost exclusively on tourism. Sixty per cent of our GDP comes from tourism. It employs two-thirds of the workforce," D'Aguilar told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.
"If we're going to help those islands rebuild and help those individuals impacted to rebuild their lives, people need to visit our country and come here and have a vacation."
The Bahamas are made up of 700 islands spread out across 1,000 kilometres from north to south. When Hurricane Dorian ripped through the area in early September, only the Grand Bahama and Abaco islands were hit.
The storm levelled homes and businesses, causing an estimated $7 billion US in property damage. A temporary death toll sits at 56, and nearly 600 people remain missing.
As both islands slowly recover, D'Aguilar says that visitors can help speed up recovery by staying at the country's many resorts.
"By coming to our country and experiencing that, you are indirectly helping those people that have been impacted by the storm," he said.
'Basically no tourists'
Carmel Churchill, a lifelong resident of Grand Bahama Island, president of Doncar Management Services, a company that provides marketing consultant services for the Grand Bahama Island Tourism Board, says that the island is slowly coming back online.
Power has been turned back on for 80 per cent of the island, she says, and water is running, though it is not yet safe to drink.
It's great that we receive building supplies, however, we are going to need people to physically do the work to get people back in their homes.- Carmel Churchill
Churchill, who lost her own home due to flooding from the hurricane, agrees that a return of the country's main industry is crucial to helping residents.
"There's basically no tourists here at all," she told Day 6. "For the remaining islands in the Bahamas, we understand that their numbers have dropped off tremendously because people feel that all of the Bahamas was affected."
Last month, in an effort to get tourists travelling down south, she promoted her home island at a Detroit trade show.
"Those tax dollars are going to mean a lot to us," Churchill told Day 6.
Fundraisers and crowdfunding programs have also been providing support to the affected islands, she said.
Bahamas have weathered storms before
Aid packages, including building supplies, that have made their way to the islands are appreciated, Churchill says. But money is ultimately what's needed to rebuild, she says.
"It's great that we receive building supplies, however, we are going to need people to physically do the work to get people back in their homes," she said.
D'Aguilar says that despite Dorian's devastating effects on the Bahamas, the country's tourism sector has recovered from hard times before.
"We have travel advisories, we have storms, we have many things that impact the tourism industry, not only in the Bahamas but throughout the Caribbean," he said.
"But what we find is over time these memories fade and people decide, 'OK, I want to go on a holiday in the Caribbean, specifically I want to come to the Bahamas,' and it bounces back very quickly."
As the Atlantic hurricane season continues through the fall, the MP says he's "optimistic" that the Bahamas will be spared another serious weather event.
"We've had our fair share," he said.
To hear the full interview with Dionisio D'Aguilar, download our podcast or click Listen above.