Travelling Bahamian style: How The Bahamas are connecting visitors with their residents

Tourism is so much more than topping up your suntan and relaxing by the pool. It can be an invaluable opportunity to broaden horizons and connect with those who have a different outlook on life. That’s the ethos that underpins The Bahamas’ award-winning People-to-People programme, and for 45 years, the team at The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, Investments and Aviation has been connecting visitors to residents for a truly authentic experience. Bernadette Bastian, the Ministry’s General Manager and the driving force behind the People-to-People programme, joined us to talk about how they’re transforming tourists into temporary locals and creating lasting memories that unite residents and travellers. 

Congratulations on winning the 2023 Best Citizen Engagement Award for your People-to-People project! Please could you quickly walk us through what the project entails? 


The People-to-People Programme is a community involvement initiative sponsored by The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, Investments and Aviation. At its heart, it’s a really simple idea – locals know the islands the best. The program is designed to afford visitors an opportunity to interact with local residents in meaningful ways and experience The Bahamas the way Bahamians do. The People-to-People Programme first began connecting visitors with locals through customised experiences throughout The Islands of The Bahamas in 1975. It is the Ministry of Tourism's number one onshore promotional programme.

The ultimate goal of our People-to-People Program is to offer a cultural exchange between visitors and ambassadors and it creates a truly immersive cultural experience for more inquisitive travellers. We invite locals to volunteer to share what they love best about their homes with those who want to authentically experience The Bahamas and build connections with our community.


How did you identify your People-to-People ambassadors? 


People-to-People Ambassadors are knowledgeable and friendly hosts who are screened and certified by the Ministry of Tourism to offer the best hosting experience. A national recruitment drive is held to encourage interested persons to sign up for the programme. A training workshop is organised and upon successful completion, ambassadors are certified as People-to-People hosts. To date, there are more than 300 active volunteers throughout The Islands of The Bahamas.

The only real requirement is that you have to be a resident of The Bahamas to become an Ambassador for the programme. We want to be able to match visitors with the best possible host, so it’s important that our Ambassadors have different occupations, interests, hobbies, etc.


Can you tell us more about the training workshop you mentioned you hold for your Ambassadors?


Yes, of course. We want to make sure that our Ambassadors are supported throughout, and also to give them the tools to ensure our visitors have the best experience. There are several modules for the workshop: Becoming a People-to-People Ambassador; My Bahamas; The Business of Tourism; The Art of Serving Excellence; The Art of Hosting; and The Art of Entertaining.

Between these six modules, we make sure that our Ambassadors have a good understanding of the culture, heritage, and history of the islands, but also to give them ideas about how they can create the best People-to-People experiences. And it also allows us to share what today’s visitors are looking for from their travels, particularly visitors who sign-up for this sort of programme.


How did you build awareness of this programme to encourage visitors to participate? 


The Programme is primarily promoted on to reach visitors as they’re planning their trip to The Bahamas.

We’ve had really positive feedback from the people who have signed up for the Programme. They get the chance to experience the warmth and hospitality of local Bahamians and create memories with new friends. Through testimonials, visitors become an advertising billboard for the programme, sharing the experience with family and friends.


Have you got any advice for other destinations who are looking to showcase their authentic culture and connect tourists with their local residents? 


Yes! Visitors are looking for a rich cultural experience off the beaten track. They are seeking more authentic and cultural experiences. Ensure that there are opportunities for them to connect with the locals, which is the only way to authentically connect with the destination.

It might feel like a risk, but ultimately, it’s more than worth the reward and it delivers value for your residents and your visitors.


What do you think the next steps will be to keep developing the People-to-People programme? 


The next steps are always the people. We hope to continue to attract other personable hosts to the programme, whilst rejuvenating our current hosts so the experience is always relevant, and we can match hosts to visitors. We will continue to provide incentives and continued training in an effort to encourage hosts to offer personable and enriching, authentic experiences required by visitors to maintain the programme's strength. We want to make sure that the people who visit us get the opportunity to see The Bahamas that we see, and to forge connections with our residents that go far beyond the usual travel experience. We believe that the People-to-People programme is key to achieving this, so we look forward to continuing to grow the strength of the programme in the future!

It’s a wonderful initiative, so thank you so much for sharing that with us!


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