The first indication that something was not well at the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island came from even before walking inside: The Bahamian flag that witnessed the roof flies in half staff.
The flags of the country. even one above the luxury 3,800-room water park and hotel, was lowered in honor of the 51 people killed during early September days in Hurricane Dorian, a category 5 hurricane forgiving Great Abaco Island and flooding a good portion of the Grand Bahama. But even as hotels provide money and Delta Air Lines and cruise ships evacuate survivors and deliver relief supplies, the travel industry in the Bahamas is desperate to convey the message that natural disasters, just as the terrible thing happened, it happened 100 miles from Nassau, its top tourist destination.
This country of mourning is also a country dependent on tourism. The Bahamas needs to return its tourists.
"I struggled to get here," said Samantha Ping, of Kentucky, who visited the Atlantis resort last week with her husband, who was attending a conference. "I'm going by the pool, while people on an island are suffering for food and water?"
Ms. Ping found a solution that would both ease his conscience and save his vacation: He took a trip and used his free time in Atlantis to make sandwiches for hurricane survivors. Atlantis offered a huge donation and one of its kitchens to the World Central Kitchen, a relief organization serving hot food and sandwiches in disasters around the world. It's been a slow season in the Bahamas, so while small groups of people waited at the swim-up bar, some managed to wrestle enough people to play volleyball in the pool, an exciting indoor kitchen of preparing meals for a disaster that seemed like a
"Me and six other girls made 5,000 turkey sandwiches and 5,000 tuna sandwiches," said Christine Stramiello, a waitress from New Jersey who arrived at Atlantis resort just days after the storm hit a three-week vacation. "It would hurt if I came here and didn't help."
Ms. Ping and Ms. Stramiello was among the thousands of people who booked holidays in the Bahamas and were left with the unpleasant choice of having to cancel their trips or knowing of the tragedy. Travelers call and email hotels to find out if it's safe. Is the power in? Can evacuees share hotels with tourists?
Many travelers are scared and their plans are ruined. Hotels across the 700 islands that make up the Bahamas have seen "double-digit and triple-digit" cancellations, the tourism ministry said – even those located anywhere near ruins. In response, the ministry released a map showing that of the 16 tourist islands in the Bahamas, 14 were "open for business." Popular destinations such as Eleuthera, Exuma and Bimini were not affected by the storm.
"If a hurricane wants a hurricane." hit Jacksonville in Florida, doesn't mean you won't be vacationing in Miami or Fort Lauderdale, "said Dionisio J. D & # 39; Aguilar, the Minister of Tourism and Aviation." That's the similarity we make. Unfortunately, people are geographically challenged. ”
The 700 islands that make up the Bahamas vary in size and range from 750 miles. Hurricane Dorian held power in Nassau for hours, but no damage was left.
Mr. D 'Aguilar recognized that some people, like Ms. Ping, is aware that places like Nassau are well away from the storm, but they still feel "in the time of tragedy and disaster" on vacation there.
The opposite is true, he said.
"More than ever we need you to go on vacation," he said. "That's the only way we can help our northern brothers."
While still trying to strike the balance needed for a period of solitude, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism is in the middle of an "open launch" campaign trying to push the idea that the country – most of it, still – was open for business.
About 4 million people visited the Bahamas in the first six months of this year, contributing to almost half of the country's gross domestic product. Almost 20 percent of those travelers visit Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Abaco, which launched direct flights from Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami and Fort Lauderdale, was hit hard. Almost 300,000 tourists visited there from January to July this year, but this business is now closed for the foreseeable future.
The Bahamas warns of a major hit in the national economy, at a time when cash flow is urgent.
"If they do not come, we will not have the revenue to rebuild," said Ellison "Tommy" Thompson, deputy director general of the tourism ministry. "We really need them to come, stay an extra day and spend an extra $ 50."
He spread the word on social media and in media interviews, and the country would continue with a "Fly Away" advertising. campaign started earlier this year featuring singer Lenny Kravitz. As the hurricane season ends, more aggressive promotions, including billboards and train station advertising, are also planned.
"We are sensitive to the fact that so many of our brothers have lost everything," Mr. Thompson said. "But we have to be steadfast. We are the Ministry of Tourism. Our job is to attract visitors to the Bahamas. It may be very cold, but if we do not have guests coming in, everyone will suffer."
Si Benjamin Davis, general manager of the Warwick Hotel on Paradise Island, said the hotel saw nearly 8 percent of it canceled bookings.
"We have people calling to ask if we will be open by January 2020, "he said. When Dorian was sick, Warwick was never attached.
He walked around the property, where a group of women were celebrating a 40th birthday party and a waiter was appeared in his chops as a singer in the town of Nassau, where the cruise ships docked, tourists collapsed for trinkets, with little danger. sailors sailed to Nassau, although Freeport was no longer available for disembarking.
Pam Smith, a retired nurse from Long Island, N.Y., said it was a difficult decision to go ahead with her vacation plans. He realized that his tourist dollars were required not only by the government, but also by hotel workers to take relatives who had lost their homes.
"At first, it was like, & # 39; What am I doing here, when people come here to Nassau to stay in quarters? & # 39;" "Do I want to be here when such tragedy occurs in the rest of the Bahamas? But look at all these people who work here. They need us here."