Lessons from the Bahama Mama

My husband and I enjoyed a vacation to the Bahamas recently, and we were both struck by the people on this island. I’ve posted before about how to sell to Americans, based on my experience in the Dominican Republic. I would say the Bahamians have mastered this art far superior to their Dominican counterparts. The biggest difference?

Education. This was by far the biggest difference I found when thinking about why the Bahamian residents did so well selling to Americans. First, the cab drivers were extremely knowledgeable. They’d make “idle” chatter with their fares about the history of the island, American pop stars, commerce and economics, and entertainment recommendations based on the length of stay on the island. Our driver from the airport pointed out an excellent place to get chicken wings for a snack, and told us all about the New Year’s Eve festivities. Another cab driver told us that the government created a program to educate everyone in the tourism industry about how to make sure tourists had a great experience. They made everyone take the same state-approved course, from the hotel owner, to the waiters and cab drivers. Even the residents of the island, who were seemingly uninvolved with tourists, learned that tourism is a major contribution to the Bahamian economy, and they would regularly welcome us to the island as we passed on the street. The Bahamians understood that good news travels fast, but bad news travels faster, so taking preemptive action to ensure satisfied customers was in their best interest.

The soft sell. As I mentioned in my post about the Dominican Republic, hard-selling became a huge nuisance on the trip. Conversely, the Bahamian people have perfected the art of the soft sell. For example, the cab drivers use their education and knowledge of the history of the island to soft sell a guided tour later in the week. This is genius! They can collect not only an additional fare, but a premium for the “guided tour”, using their conversation to show that they have interesting information that you might want to pay for. Further, all of the “recommendations” from each of the service providers are soft sells. We ended up getting chicken wings from the stand recommended by the cab driver twice during our stay, without feeling like we were “sold” to. This particular driver also got another fare from us by offering to set an appointment to pick us up on our return trip to the airport. He offered us the convenience of the guaranteed fare with on-time, curbside pick-up. We didn’t feel that he “sold” us on choosing to ride with him, but rather that he had provided a valuable service to us. No one badgered us, and they were willing to leave us alone with a simple, “No thank you.” We weren’t afraid to roam around the market, wondering how many people would hound us about a purchase.

Presentation is everything. We noticed that the cab drivers and waiters were really well-dressed, and one cab driver mentioned that this was part of the requirements in the industry. Waiters wore, at minimum, khakis and a polo shirt, maids in several hotels wore dress uniforms, and cab drivers wore neckties. The city in general was very clean and well-lit, making us feel safe enough to make a 2 mile exploration walk from downtown to Paradise Island. And, these people know how to celebrate the New Year! Their fireworks display on the water was AMAZING, rivaling any display I’ve seen stateside on July 4th, and the entire city erupted with horns and music at midnight. They put on an elaborate parade called Junkanoo, with intricate costumes and floats. Aside from the extravagant nature of the parade participants, it goes on for a staggering 9 hours! They put up bleachers and block off the entire downtown main street to accommodate spectators, and there are plenty of cops for crowd control. When you visit the island, you feel relaxed, catered to, and safe, because they have made a concerted effort to create a flawless presentation.

You can go anywhere for sandy beaches and blue waters, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find people like the Bahamians. The people of this island made our trip memorable and enjoyable, and I think the top-down education plays a huge part in creating their successful tourist haven.

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