Forget the Fyre Festival. The Bahamas has a better idea

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on February 13, 2019.
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The island nation has a new tourism campaign featuring Lenny Kravitz

The Bahamas would like you to remember that it is so much more than disaster relief tents and sad cheese sandwiches.

Two years after the Fyre Festival left a mess of unpaid workers, defrauded investors and angry attendees in its wake, the Bahamas ministry of tourism and aviation unveiled an advertising campaign to promote the Caribbean archipelago. The new face of the Bahamas will be 54-year-old Lenny Kravitz, Grammy Award-winning Bahamian-American singer.

At an event in New York last Thursday, tourism officials touted the island paradise’s beauty and grandeur, with its white and pink sand beaches, pristine blue waters and heart-warming personal stories of the locals. It has been six years since the Bahamas last refreshed its pitch to visitors.

“We all know how important tourism is to the Bahamas,” said Minister Dionsio D’Aguilar, hosting the festivities. “It is vital to our economy and our people.”

Outreach efforts have ramped up over the past 18 months, and they are paying off, D’Aguilar said. Stopover visitors to the Bahamas increased 17% last year, and his agency has seen strong demand from the US, Canada, the UK and Germany. A majority of the six million or so annual visitors to the Bahamas come from America, according to the US Department of State.

The new advertisements are backed by Kravitz’s 1998 hit Fly Away, which he wrote while driving his daughter Zoe, now a Hollywood star, to school in the Bahamas. Although he was born in the US, Kravitz would often visit family in the Bahamas as a child and recorded several of his albums there.

“It is the place I go to be myself,” he said. “I am a local in the Bahamas. They are aware of what I do. They don’t care about that.”

Unfortunately, the islanders were forced to care about the disastrous Fyre Festival. Hosted on Great Exuma island in 2017, the music festival has recently been the focus of two documentaries and endless mocking social media posts.

Local vendors, workers and contractors were left unpaid as the calamity unfolded. In its aftermath, the Bahamas tourism agency was quick to distance itself from Fyre, noting it was “a private event”.

As the fiasco made international news, authorities in the Bahamas moved to bar the festival’s organiser, Billy McFarland, from doing business there in future. McFarland is currently serving a six-year prison sentence in upstate New York for financial fraud.

There was no mention of the Fyre Festival at the event. Instead, Kravitz was asked if there are plans for him to play some shows on the islands.

“Good idea,” said Kravitz, to the crowd’s whoops and cheers. “I have never played a real concert in the Bahamas.” — Bloomberg