“The longing to travel is a deep human desire that [didn’t go] away in 2020,” says Graeme Davis , president of Baha Mar , a luxury resort destination in Nassau, the Bahamas.
While last year wasn’t kind to tourism, Davis feels strongly about a comeback in 2021. He predicts this year will be one of milestone celebrations and bucket-list trips. Furthermore, he is optimistic that the availability and distribution of a vaccine will help renew tourism, with families and friends looking to experience safe, intimate holidays.
Davis expects surroundings and climate to be paramount when consumers book travel, as many folks will seek out alluring, warm-weather places. He also feels that travelers will dig beneath the surface, more so than they did pre-Covid. “We are seeing the length of stays increase as travelers cherish their time away and dive even deeper into the cultures, food, and life of chosen destinations,” he says.
Australian by birth, Davis, 56, immigrated to the U.S. with his family in the late 1960s. He grew up in Miami Beach and recalls spending many summers in his youth exploring the Bahamas as he sailed through the islands. “It became a goal of mine to one day live and work in the Caribbean.”
As president of Baha Mar, Davis leads strategic planning and operations for the $4.2 billion complex, home to three global hotel brands: Grand Hyatt, SLS, and Rosewood. The Nassau destination features more than 2,300 rooms, the largest casino in the Caribbean, the flagship ESPA spa, and the Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course.
Due to the threat of Covid-19, Baha Mar suspended operations last March, remaining closed until Dec. 17, 2020, when it reopened at 60% capacity.
Recently, Davis chatted with Penta about his life in hospitality and the future of the Bahamas post-pandemic.
PENTA : What led you into the world of hospitality?
Graeme Davis: I started cooking at 13 years old, poring over my mother’s Gourmet magazines. I developed a strong love for entertaining, preparing dinners for my family and their friends at an early age. I was inspired by the instantaneous joy at the table and the ability to bring people together through cooking. I was drawn to a career in hospitality from an early age, and I went on to University of New Hampshire to study and receive my BS in Hotel Administration.
What do you enjoy most about the field?
I feel immense gratification in creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences for our resort guests, second only to the passion I have for helping our employees reach their greatest potential. The idea that I am hopefully making a difference in their lives is the highest reward.
What Covid safety protocols have you implemented at Baha Mar since the reopening?
We opened Baha Mar with heightened safety and health measures in place. The standards include enhanced housekeeping and engineering, heightened food safety and digital ordering, touchless payments, and additional technology methods that allow for an abundance of contactless experiences.
To ensure the safest environment for our guests and staff, Baha Mar will provide weekly Covid-19 testing for associates and our guests will be required to take a complimentary Rapid Antigen Test upon check-in. We will also offer PCR and Rapid Antigen tests prior to guests’ departures from the Bahamas. These tests will be administered at Baha Mar by Doctor’s Hospital Nassau. In addition to Baha Mar’s protocols, the Islands of the Bahamas have implemented testing requirements to safely vacation in the Bahamas as well.
As the pandemic winds down, what changes should we expect to see in hotels?
I believe technology and digitization will be the greatest features to impact hotels in the modern age. The ability to check in to guest rooms, open a door, and sign for a check seamlessly by scanning an RFID bracelet are ways to ensure contactless interactions. While technology will play an essential role in restoring consumer confidence, hoteliers must understand that digitization can never replace the human experience. It will be a careful balance of automated processes and the human touch that wins over consumers.
What is 2021 looking like for travel to the Bahamas and Baha Mar?
In 2019, tourism in the Bahamas had a record-breaking year, welcoming 7.2 million visitors—the highest number of arrivals in the history of the country. I am resolute in my confidence and have full faith in the resilience of the tourism industry in the Bahamas. Our hotel brands, Grand Hyatt, SLS, and Rosewood, are reporting healthy booking projections for 2021. Currently, airlift looks strong for flights coming into Nassau from many major cities in the U.S. including New York, Miami, Houston , and others. We know we will be back.
This article has been edited for length and clarity.