The Bahamas: The Next Mecca for Gay Tourism?

Florida makes billions off gay tourists and gay events while The Bahamas gets chump change

Brian Lucky

Brian Lucky

Last month the Canadian government issued a warning that gays “should carefully consider the risks of travelling to The Bahamas,” in light of its conservative society.  Instead of issuing the predictable statement of protest, perhaps The Bahamas should respond with a whole new strategy.

5 January 2019

Even in the best of times, in the cutthroat competition among tourism destinations only one brand can emerge with the most-acclaimed cachet: prestige that inspires one to brag at the office water cooler, “I’m going there next month.” With economic recession now potentially lurking on the horizon, the stakes of this contest will likely rise in 2019.  Arrivals and employment could easily retract. Whatever the macroeconomic situation, families need to provide for their children and governments are mindful of substantial, looming debt payments.

If The Bahamas prepares for a major challenge and reaches deep for inspiration and innovative strategy, it can succeed even during a retraction, or soar ever-higher if bull market conditions persist.  However, if leaders enter the fray equipped with conventionality and smugness, failure will surely follow.

In this context, Bahamians and their leaders should meditate and fix themselves upon their priority.  How much do citizens really want a prosperous society marked by jobs, security and healthy families?  Are Bahamians willing to mix in distractions that impede strategic thinking?  Specifically, are people willing to accept less prosperity to make room for brand-tarnishing elements such as homophobia, intolerance and religious fundamentalism?

Clearly, The Bahamas has natural beauty and an ideal geographic situation.  But it also needs responsible leadership with a strategic vision to ensure its brand will attract visitors even during economic downturn.

San Salvador, The Bahamas
San Salvador, The Bahamas
Streets in Nassau... future scene of gay pride parades?

The Bahamas is missing out on major opportunities to make money and bring jobs to the 700 Islands.  Florida in particular is eating The Bahamas’ lunch.  Every year hundreds of thousands of people attend Miami Beach Gay Pride.  Six-figure crowds also converge on St. Petersburg and other cities for annual celebrations.  All together, sixteen gay events throughout the year bring Florida a constant stream of wealth and media attention.  Adding up all the hotel rooms, activities and food, gay events represent a non-stop, multi-billion-dollar industry.

Of course, gay tourists frequently travel in the context of personal vacations, rather than pride-specific trips. A huge slice of the American and Canadian population identifies as being gay, with a whopping 8.2% of the youngest generation claiming the LGBT banner.  They punch above their weight, too: gay men earn more money on average than straight men.  

Arguably, high-earning GCWOKs are the perfect fit for a relatively-expensive destination like The Bahamas  (GCWOK = Gay Couple Without Kids).  For one thing, large families have a hard time footing the plane tickets to The Bahamas; unfortunately, these cost almost as much as bookings to Asia, due to the high taxes and fees levied by the Bahamian government.

Where in the Greater Caribbean do the millions of gays want to spend their money? In Jamaica, where popular musicians glorify lynching of gays by sadistic burning?  In Cuba, where the Leftist dictatorship put homosexuals in concentration camps?

Gay Pride Parade that might come to Nassau, The Bahamas
Gay tourists could be spending money
and celebrating in The Bahamas

The homophobic intolerance of other destinations in the Greater Caribbean presents a huge opportunity for The Bahamas.  Although gays represent a minority of the North American population, if The Bahamas can earn a reputation as the most gay-friendly destination — not a tall order considering the poor state of the competition — it could attract the majority of gay arrivals and welcome millions every year.

The first step toward attracting gay tourists is to reform homophobic laws.  The 1991 Sexual Offenses Law creates an age of consent of 16 for heterosexuals but 18 for homosexuals.  Clearly, this treats gays differently than the rest of the population and thus constitutes discrimination.  Perhaps the age of consent should be 18 for all citizens.  In any case, the age should be the same for everyone.

The Bahamas constitutes an idyllic setting for any celebration or event.  Bahamian families do not profit if certain categories of visitors feel less welcome.

Long Island, The Bahamas
A view of a pier in Nassau, New Providence Island
View from a pier. Nassau, New Providence Island

This law has other serious problems, unrelated to gay policy, that tarnish the prestige of The Bahamas.  Importantly, raping one’s spouse is legal, as its definition of rape explicitly excludes spouses.  This week Social Services Minister Frankie Campbell suggested that the government is considering the marital rape issue because of foreign pressure, clearly implying that otherwise it would not be of concern for the government.  He also suggested that any reform would have to be acceptable to fundamentalists in “the religious community.”  Prominent Bahamian fundamentalists have suggested that men have an on-demand “right” to sex with their spouses.

Another problem with the sex legislation is the lack of a close-in-age exemption.  In other words, even if both members of a couple were born the same month, when the older person turns eighteen (in a gay couple) or sixteen (in a heterosexual couple), he or she becomes a pedophile and liable to imprisonment for life.  In the heterosexual close-in-age scenario, the older person is somewhat protected, as the attorney general himself has to approve prosecution in cases where the older party is under 21 and the younger party over 14; however, this partial protection of attorney general review does not extend to homosexual couples.

Clearly, progress in terms of mentalities is a bigger challenge, as attitudes cannot be quickly reformed in the manner of legislation.  This author is under no illusion; the most likely outcome is that societal approaches will continue only gradually to evolve.  As the older generations die off and as the younger generations connect with online sources of information, tired old fundamentalist diatribes lose their appeal.  In all likelihood, by the time gays feel completely welcome in The Bahamas, they will also feel more or less at home throughout the Greater Caribbean.  If so, The Bahamas will have squandered the strategic moment and lost the chance for a disproportionately great share of gay events and gay arrivals.