Paradise Island spurs Bahamas 'renaissance'

It was the color of the ocean - "as if God had dropped globs of paint from on high" - that first captivated this snow-bred Canadian.

So it came as no surprise when Kitty Hart moved south to marry a Bahamian and help him run the Flamingo Bay Hotel on Exuma, one of 700 islands that makes up the Bahamas.

"The islands were extremely peaceful," Ms. Hart says. "But things took a sharp downturn in the '80s. The government had been in power too long, the drug trade was affecting everything, and tourists began to go elsewhere."

The economically distressed decade that ensued left many wondering whether the tourism-bound economy of the Bahamas would ever recover.

Recover it has. And its recovery is a case study for other struggling Caribbean countries equally dependent on tourism.

"The Bahamas is going through a renaissance," says Scott Berman, director of hospitality and leisure consulting for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Miami. "The turn-around is huge, and it's largely due to the redevelopment of Paradise Island."

Paradise Island, a small island north of Nassau, is home to Atlantis, an $800 million resort designed after Plato's lost city.

"Atlantis is living proof of what has been accomplished in the past six years," says Ministry of Tourism Consultant Cordell Thompson.

The Bahamas was one of the hottest vacation destinations in the 1960s and '70s. "But in the '80s, the political winds changed and competition increased," Mr. Berman explains. "The hotels were in disrepair, the employees were surly, and the airlines were cutting service."

The economy went into a tailspin spurred by world recession in the mid-1980s, governmental corruption, and drug trafficking.

"The word out there was that it was difficult to do business in the Bahamas, that it was ruled by a bureaucracy that was old and inefficient," Mr. Thompson says. "Gradually, we were getting the reputation as a third-world banana republic."

Then in 1992, Prime Minister Lynden Pindling, in office since 1967, was swept out by frustrated voters. The new prime minister, Hubert Ingraham, set out to attract a new generation of investors by streamlining the bureaucracy, adding more soft-loan guarantees, and providing job training to unskilled Bahamians.

Currently, several hotels are undergoing multimillion-dollar renovations, and airlines that cut back service during the 1980s are now looking to expand. Through all this, the Ministry of Tourism is promoting the Bahamas through increased advertising and getting back to what made the Bahamas great in the first place - its people, born and raised on the benefits of tourism.

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