A Lot Will Be Riding On Ministry of Tourism

By Rogan Smith |
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The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism (BMOT) will have its work cut out for it when the economy finally reopens. While it’s unclear just when that will happen, two things are certain, it will be business unusual when it does, and there’s going to be a whole lot of competition waiting in the wings.

COVID-19 has ravaged the Caribbean, and in particular, The Bahamas, which has not recovered from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Dorian last year. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) puts the cost of the damage at $3.4 billion – the equivalent of the United States losing the combined economic outputs of Florida, Texas and California. 

Late last week, Standard and Poor’s (S&P) forecast that the Bahamian economy will shrink by 16 per cent this year and downgraded The Bahamas’ sovereign creditworthiness. It was “unprecedented” but not unexpected.

The World Travel and Tourism Council forecasts that up to 50 million tourism sector jobs are at risk globally and 25 percent of global travel could be adversely affected. For a country like The Bahamas, which relies heavily on tourism, that spells trouble. 

It’s hard to believe, but just a few months ago, The Bahamas was riding high, welcoming 7.2 million visitors in 2019 – 1.8 million of whom were stopover arrivals and 5.4 million were cruise ship passengers. Even with the devastating passage of Hurricane Dorian, tourism officials remained optimistic that with ramped up sales and marketing, as well as airlift strategies, the sector would rebound. 

But, then the pandemic hit. Ports were closed and the cruise ship industry came to a screeching halt. The Miami Herald reports that the three largest cruise companies – Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. And Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings – have raised enough money to last them at least 10 cruise-less months. Not so clear, however, is what business beyond those 10 months will look like. It’s important to note that the cruise industry has faced other outbreaks before like chickenpox and recovered. 

The majority of our tourists come from cruise ships, and right now passengers are incredibly leery about boarding a ship, especially in light of the fact that health officials have repeatedly warned that these vessels are incubators for infectious diseases. 

Naturally, there will be those who will want to rebook their vacations after cancelling due to the pandemic and others who will take advantage of what could be bargain basement prices. But, given the negative press about the cruise industry, many are extremely apprehensive to take the voyage. 

One thing is certain, until the outbreak is contained, people will not travel. 

We must also remember that the majority of our visitors come from North America and many are struggling to hold on to whatever money they have. Millions of Americans are unemployed and waiting to receive stimulus cheques to take care of their basic needs. A vacation to The Bahamas may not be at the top of their list even when the US economy reopens and they are back on the job. 

Then there’s the competition. The Bahamas will also be competing with other Caribbean destinations that are starving for visitors and willing to do whatever it takes to get them, which is why it is important for the ministry to devise several strategies to lure visitors willing to travel, to The Bahamas. 

Officials have to ensure that this destination is at the forefront of those visitors’ minds. If we can eliminate COVID-19 deaths decreased and arrest the number of confirmed cases, then MOT may be able to position The Bahamas as an alternative to other countries and regions impacted by the virus.

Time To Step Up Quarantine Checks

Bahamians have proven time and time again that they do not like rules. So, they certainly cannot be counted on to be compliant, especially during a time like this. 

With the rising number of COVID-19 cases the government has repeatedly called on citizens and residents to self-distance. Those who are believed to have been exposed to the virus have been ordered to self-quarantine.

But, without regular checks, there is truly no way of knowing whether people are adhering to orders to remain in quarantine. 

Ordinary citizens and residents don’t know who may have been exposed to the virus and many have no clue who has been ordered to remain in quarantine. That lack of knowledge is putting many people at risk. This virus is fatal for those with underlying health conditions. 

Understandably, government officials do not want to reveal the names because they do not want to create a mob scenario. Doing so may also be a violation of those individuals’ rights. But, something has to be done. It has been proposed that the individuals wear monitoring bracelets. I think that is a good idea. 

Those who are quarantining should only leave their homes in order to receive medical care. If they go to the grocery store or the pharmacy, they are potentially exposing others to the virus. The issue that comes into play, though, is if that individual lives alone or doesn’t have family, how is he/she expected to get groceries and other necessary supplies. That lack of support will force that individual to leave the home to get those items. 

I am sure the government wants to avoid forcibly quarantining residents, so it is incumbent upon all of us to make sure we are self-isolating for the two-week period.  

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