More than 1.7 million visitors flock to the Islands of the Bahamas each year to experience the trademark hospitality, sundrenched shores and balmy year-round temperatures. The islands' close proximity just off the coast of Florida makes this sprawling archipelago one of the easiest foreign destinations to get to from the United States. Visitors can board a plane in Miami and arrive in Nassau, the largest city and capital of the commonwealth, in fewer than 40 minutes. Two major international airports and a slew of smaller airports are scattered about the islands, and once in the Bahamas, visitors can traverse attractions by way of taxi, rental car, scooter or bus. Ferries and water taxis are also readily available to quickly transport guests from one delightful island to the next.
Drawn not just by the proximity of this international destination, meeting planners in the United States are also pleased to take advantage of the Bahamas' tax exemption status. Since 2006, U.S. taxpayers who attend business meetings, conventions or seminars in the Bahamas can write off the expense just as if it were held in the United States. Plus, U.S. visitors need not worry about currency exchange, as U.S. dollars are accepted interchangeably with the official Bahamian currency.
Whether hailing from the United States or elsewhere, meeting and convention groups find impressive accommodations and state-of-the-art facilities at the many stunning mega resorts that sprawl across the islands. On the aptly named Paradise Island, the widely-recognized Atlantis Resort stands as an iconic symbol of the majestic beauty of the Bahamas. Always ahead of the curve, Atlantis has expanded its world-class conference center to include the 50,000-square-foot Imperial Ballroom, the largest ballroom in the Caribbean. With a total meeting and event space of 300,000 square feet, the center is equipped with 20 scenic outdoor spaces, 30,000 square feet of pre-function space, 26 breakout rooms, a large staging area and two new high-tech executive boardrooms.
On Grand Bahama Island, just six miles from the Grand Bahama International Airport, the Westin Grand Bahama Island Our Lucaya Resort offers 90,000 square feet of event space including 20 indoor meeting rooms and nine outdoor meeting spaces. Whether hosting a gala in the 15,000-square-foot ballroom or an outdoor gathering on the scenic 43,954-square-foot Sugar Mill Beach, the Lucaya provides modern, well-appointed facilities for events of all types. After a day of meetings, attendees can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the rambling white sands, hit the links at the resort's championship golf courses, try their luck at the casino, or cool off in one of four luxurious pools. With so much to offer, it's not surprising that Forbes magazine named the resort one of its Top 400 Hotels, and Corporate & Incentive Travel awarded it the 2006 Award of Excellence.
Beyond such impressive facilities, the Bahamas offers a number of alternative spaces that provide an unforgettable backdrop for meetings and events. Host an outdoor reception among the bronze visages and historic stone abbey of the breathtaking Versailles Gardens and French Cloister on Paradise Island. Invite up to 300 guests to feast on sumptuous Italian cuisine from the group menus offered at Nassau's popular Ristorante Villaggio Cocktail & Wine Bar. Or, for a more artistic atmosphere, groups can gather on the grounds of an 1860s villa at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas.
Several high profile corporations are headquartered on the islands including Bahamasair, Global Environmental Energy Corporation, Kerzner International Holdings, Ltd., Steiner Leisure, Ltd., Teekay Corporation and Ultrapetrol, Ltd. In addition, the islands are home to Nova Southeastern University, the Eugene Dupuch Law School and the College of the Bahamas, which has campuses in both Nassau and Freeport.