EXUMA, BAHAMAS — If you had asked the Evans family where they planned to vacation a little more than a year ago, chances are they would have said London, Paris, Cannes, Sun Valley — anywhere but in their own backyard.
The pandemic changed all that and this month, the Evans were among the many locals who packed their bags and headed close to home searching for all the luxury they could find in a place where they didn’t have to pack a passport. They’re vacationing, dining, playing, swimming, snorkeling, golfing and exploring the luxury of Grand Isle Resort & Residences in Exuma in the central Bahamas — one of many premier properties welcoming a noticeable uptick in local arrivals.
Michael Lorenz, marketing director for Aimbridge Hospitality, which counts the award-winning Grand Isle on Exuma among the global properties it manages bookings and events for, said: “Like everyone else, we struggled through the challenges of the lockdowns, curfews, restrictions, travel bans and just plain fear of traveling when the pandemic turned the world upside down.
“We navigated that river of challenges by searching for a new stream of business.”
That new stream of revenue came from offering villas for long-term stays beginning in mid-2020, appealing to those who wanted to find a safe place where they could set up their temporary office space and work from home.
Among the early takers was Tiffany Dunn, a partner at the Tennessee law firm of Loeb & Loeb LLP who came for a short period and spent five months at Grand Isle. “My law practice didn’t skip a beat; it showed you really can live and work in paradise,” she said.
Another long-term renter, global business owner Robert Saad, who arrived in November with his wife and is still living and working from a villa at Grand Isle, said: “What could have been a very difficult winter has become a memorable experience for all of us. I can highly recommend Grand Isle’s luxury homes and the staff is a class act.”
But the real change came as Grand Isle began partial hotel operations with special rates and the response from those traveling within The Bahamas reflected the new trend, according to Lorenz, who urged those who are considering a Family Island vacation to book while resident rates apply and space remains available.
Up and down the Lucayan archipelago, boutique resorts, marinas, luxury rentals and private islands are shadowing Grand Isle’s experience, enjoying increased demand from both a local market that would normally vacation outside their home country and a high-end market, especially from the northeastern states in the US and Canada.
Grand Isle stopped well short of calling it booming, but believes it is a sign of a brighter future for Family Island properties that maintain high standards.
Two trends, Lorenz said, portended well for a robust return to travel. Americans’ credit card debt has declined and savings are up, making the desire to “just have fun” more realistic.
For a luxury resort like Grand Isle — where a four-bedroom penthouse can range up to 5,250 square feet and even the one-bedroom villas feel like a home at 1,250 square feet, and all feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors, oversized patios, state-of-the-art S/S kitchen appliances and magazine-worthy décor — the pent-up demand is creating a promising spring and summer.
Lorenz said: “It’s taken a long time to sink in, but I think Bahamians are finally realizing it really is better in The Bahamas.”