Tourism in Great Exuma Appears Unscathed After Disastrous Fyre Festival

The festival's founder, Billy McFarlane, has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and faces years in prison.

Remember Fyre Festival? The doomed “luxury music festival” created by Ja Rule and businessman Billy McFarland, and hyped by supermodels that had the opposite of the Midas touch, tainting everything with either bankruptcy, no salaries or, in the case of McFarland, a possible decades-long prison sentence and a $26 million dollar fine? The festival that splurged $150,000 to get Blink-182 a yacht? Yes, that one. 

Fyre was supposed to be held on the island of Great Exuma in the Bahamas, but as soon as the people who paid between $1,500 and $250,000 for all-inclusive villa packages arrived, they found total chaos. Sad salads, even sadder sandwiches, and hotels without running water were just the beginning of it. 

Almost exactly a year after the shit first hit the fan, Mic took a look at how tourism in the Exuma islands is doing in light of the disaster that was the festival. The locals insist tourism has been up, but people who were directly involved with the festival are still reporting losses as a result.

“Fyre Festival was geared towards, to be honest, rich white kids, and Exuma does not normally attract that product,” Dwight Hart, an island native who owns a local FM radio station and manages the Exuma Palms Hotel, told Mic. “Exuma is more of a tourism product for couples, boaters, people who like water adventures, people who fish, families who come in for a beach experience.”

Owners of Exumas restaurants and bars report tourism is up, and continues to rise regardless of the fame the islands received from the festival. In fact, visitor numbers have increased from 21,000 in 2000 to 51,000 in 2016. Joy Jibrilu, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism director general, said in a 2017 press conference that Exuma “is experiencing the fastest rate of growth of any multiple-island destination in the Bahamas.” This proves Exuma was on the rise before Fyre; officials have yet to release the 2017 numbers, making it difficult to compare and deduce whether Fyre had a negative impact.

“It didn’t affect my tourism—I was up 25% in the last quarter,” Kenneth Bowe, owner of a bar and restaurant near the Fyre site, told Mic. “Most people never heard of Exuma until [Fyre]. Then they look it up on the internet and they see it’s a nice place. All we need for them to do in the press is spell the name right.”

“Exuma has the strongest brand presence of all the other Bahamian islands,” Noelle Nicolls, a Bahamas marketing and management consultant, said. “They can weather these big hits.”

Nevertheless, some people are still feeling the effects of Fyre. A freelance festival manager who traveled from the U.S. to Great Exuma to hire 80 bartenders, lifeguards, and dishwashers is still unable to pay them. “They were really left behind in a lot of ways,” he said. “This was really not what they were expecting.

In addition, MaryAnn Rolle, proprietor of Exuma Point Resort, spent $136,000 of her own money to feed the festival workers. She has yet to receive payment. As a result, her business is under threat of bankruptcy.  

“It’s not the end of the world, but it’s a lot you lost,” she said. “I really cannot allow Fyre Festival to cause me to just be here and cry over it. I have to put them in the back burner and move on to my business.”

Good news if you’re still interested in this mess of a story: a documentary on the festival is coming to Hulu in 2019. 

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