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Conference Report
THIRTEENTH ANNUAL BAHAMAS WEATHER CONFERENCE
"It has been incredible to watch this annual conference grow from a room of 20 meteorologists to nearly 100 meteorologist actively absorbing our message of the Bahamas being an expansive destination that requires accurate reporting on hurricanes," said Vernice Walkine, director general of the Ministry of Tourism. "We know that hurricanes rarely affect our entire country and it is imperative that we continue sharing that message with U.S. television stations, so that Bahamian tourism and Bahamian residents can reap the benefits."

The conference attracted close to 100 television meteorologists from the U.S., Canada and Europe. The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation acquired Kim Hunter of LA Grant Communications, a Los Angeles based African-American Public Relations Agency, to assist in bringing Black Meetings & Tourism to the conference to interview African-American Meteorologists and gain their perspective of this noteworthy event.

Janice Huff of WNBC in New York, returned to this year's Weather Conference very excited about what she would learn. "As I live coastally, I've had the experience of how it feels to be vulnerable to coastal storms," says Huff. "Meteorologists, such as myself, attending the Weather Conference are instructed on how to warn and inform the public, and exactly the best way to communicate regarding pending storms. This is very beneficial to tourism; as people in my profession learn the correct way to communicate oncoming storms geographically, the public will be more knowledgeable as to exactly where the trouble areas are and realize they don't have to avoid the entire Caribbean. Additionally, I have personally found that the Caribbean travel industry is most considerate when it comes to booking travelers in or near hurricane season.

The Bahamas Hotel Association (BHA) maintains its Hurricane Cancellation Policy, which has been in place for a number of years. The BHA's policy considers travelers who would either need to postpone or cancel their vacation in The Bahamas. The agreed policy gives the vacationer a choice of using deposits or payments toward a future stay at the same property in The Bahamas, or in the event that the vacationer cannot travel to The Bahamas at all, it provides the vacationer with a full refund.

The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism was the first to address the topic of hurricanes directly, creating The BWC in 1997. It has been widely noted that the value of the Bahamas Weather Conference has been highly recognized by the National Weather Association and the American Meteorologist Society. Both professional organizations extend continuing education credit to their members who attend the conference.

Meteorologist Vytas Reid of WBBFF Fox in Baltimore, MD has attended the conference seven times and states, "…in 2008 three major hurricanes - Gustav, Ike and Hanna - caused over 800 deaths. The Bahamas Weather Conference gives two visual perspectives; it helps us to understand both the past and the future of hurricanes. We learn from the past experiences so that we can improve on future occurrences, resulting in fewer lives being taken."

Alan Sealls, chief meteorologist of WKRC CBS in Mobile, AL, returned to the conference this year for his 8th consecutive visit. Since inclement weather on the gulf coast of Alabama is a seasonal occurrence, Sealls, along with his community, face some of the same weather issues as the Bahamas. Being a regular attendee of the Bahamas Weather Conference (BWC) prepared him to accurately and effectively relay information during Hurricane Ivan in 2004. "Attending the conference and hearing various stories, tips and how to communicate the pending risks involved can save lives," says Sealls.

Because of conferences like the BWC, an increase in knowledge among the traveling public has been noted and may explain the significant recent increase in tourism throughout the Caribbean during the "hurricane season." Both destinations and visitors are far more knowledgeable about a natural phenomenon that was clearly feared in the past, largely due to ignorance. The BWC is committed to making improvements in the preparation and communication of hurricanes every year to continue to aid tourism.

Anita Johnson-Patty, general manager of Communications for the Americas of the Bahamas Tourist Office, stated "...this conference is beneficial in so many ways. In addition to becoming more aware of how to relay to viewers the geographic whereabouts and paths of hurricanes, how to prepare for the storm and what to do after, meteorologists enjoy coming to the Bahamas annually, often traveling with their families. It becomes a reunion for the meteorologists; they learn more about the islands, attractions and go back to their towns and share what they've experienced here. All who attend the conference end up becoming great ambassadors for the Bahamas."

Johnson-Patty recommends all interested to visit www.bahamas.com for online packages being offered and encourages travelers to investigate some of the great deals available during the September - October months.
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