An exceptionally strong storm that recently hit the north of the Bahamas risks adding to the human toll with potentially significant effects on the local tourism economy.

Hurricane Dorian, a category 5 tropical storm and the strongest hurricane to ever hit the country, reached Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands at the beginning of September. 

The human and financial toll 

Nationally, the death toll is expected to rise above 50 and around 1,300 are still missing as the clean-up operation continues. Approximately 15,000 people are still in need of shelter or food, according to the authorities. 

The Abaco islands themselves are home to approximately 15% of the total number of hotel rooms in the Bahamas. The financial toll will be very significant for local resorts. 

The islands will need to see out one or two healthy seasons to return to normal, but in the meantime, much revenue from hotels could be lost. 

It is now essential for hoteliers who are able to do so to rebuild in time for the peak season, which starts in less than three months. 

Luckily, New Providence Island, the main tourist destination in the country and home to 11,000 rooms, was relatively spared by the passage of the hurricane, meaning that Bahamian tourism might still be able to stay afloat.

But the storm could have an impact on the desirability of the destination, like in 2017 when the World Travel & Tourism Council estimated that hurricanes caused a drop of 826,100 visitors across the whole Caribbean region.

Rebuilding infrastructure will be important

Besides reconstruction, one of the main tasks for the Bahamas will be to promote its resilience to attract visitors to other parts of the country in the months to come.

The damage to the northernmost islands is considerable and hotels in the region may be particularly affected. 

The Caribbean country now has to face the double task of rebuilding part of its tourist infrastructure and, potentially, its image on the international market.

Efforts should be made to attract tourists and prepare the country to welcome visitors for the high season in November and December.

Low-season will reduce the damage done by hurricane season

The country is used to extreme weather events, with September being known as the hurricane season. 

This is why the relatively low number of tourists on the islands in the path of the storm were able to be evacuated before the local airports were closed, a number of cruises were also rerouted in advance.

Tourism represents between 50 and 60% of the GDP (which was approximately $12.6bn in 2017) of the 700-island archipelago, which means that hurricanes can prove extremely disruptive for the economy.

The country, which is still recovering from the consequences of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, will have to count on foreign help to revitalise its tourism, starting with Royal Caribbean, a cruise operator with interests in the region, which has pledged to give $1m to the reconstruction funds.