There is no getting around the centrality of tourism to the Bahamian economy. Although its second most important sector, financial services, also plays a key role, accounting for nearly one-fifth of GDP, it is the island country’s beaches and resorts that keep it afloat.

There is also no getting around the economy’s reliance on US tourists, which by some estimates make up more than two-thirds of arrivals. Prime minister Perry G Christie says that it is essential to look to the growing markets of Asia and nearer places such as Brazil for new tourists and investors, even though the country’s position on the doorstep of the US will always serve it well. It is a mere 35 minutes’ flying time from Miami to Nassau, the Bahamian capital.

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“I am optimistic about the Bahamas because when it comes to development and tourism we are the closest market to the US,” Mr Christie told fDi in an interview at the Caribbean Association of Investment Promotion Agencies annual conference in Nassau late last year.

Archipelago appeal

In office since in May 2012, representing the leftist Progressive Liberal Party, Mr Christie previously served as prime minister of the Bahamas from 2002 to 2007. “Since being elected I have been encouraged not only by the people that have agreed to invest, but also, as a result of the recession stopping, investors have now revived their interest and new investors are coming in and are already giving us cause to believe that the Bahamas is turning the corner. Investors will see the importance, in the tourism field, of investing here,” he says.

This belief is buoyed by a slew of new investments in the sector, sprinkled across the archipelago. “I am satisfied that when it comes to the Bahamas, the chain of islands, each island has a different appeal and we find that there are investors that are interested in different islands,” he says.

As proof, the prime minister rattles off a list of examples: “In San Salvador, where is there a Club Med facility, we have some very interesting developers out of Europe that wish to add facilities to a beautiful beach there and we anticipate that coming into being [in 2013]. In Bimini, a small island 80 kilometres off the coast of Miami, the resort conglomerate Genting, which owns casinos in Singapore and New York City, is opening a casino, in a joint venture with a developer on this island, in March. So we expect to have significant employment opportunities created there. In Cat Island we have a Professional Golfers' Association development that is coming to fruition.”

Employment opportunities

Though there is a shift away from the big hotels to smaller boutique hotels, the most notable recent investment in the Bahamas is the eagerly awaited multi-billion-dollar Baha Mar project, a 4000-square-metre masterplanned resort complex under construction in Nassau with financing from China’s Export-Import Bank. Due to open in December 2014, Baha Mar is expected to increase the country's GDP by 10% in its first year of operation and generate 12,000 new jobs over four years.

These jobs are sorely needed in a country where the unemployment rate only barely dipped below 15% in November. “The challenge for us is to continue to develop the islands because of the significant problem of joblessness [and its role as] an incubator for crime,” says Mr Christie. “We are challenging both as a new government and we are having some success.”