By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Air Services Agreement being negotiated between the Bahamas and China is “pivotal” to opening a direct gateway to Asia for this nation’s tourism industry, a senior Baha Mar executive said yesterday.
Robert Sands, the developer’s senior vice-president fo governmental and external affairs, said the 18 month-long negotiations between the two nations had moved ahead more rapidly in recent times.
Expressing hope that the Agreement would be completed “in the not too distant future”, Mr Sands said it fitted in with Baha Mar’s strategy of exploiting its partnership with two Chinese state-owned firms to target the Asian market for visitors.
And Mr Sands said the Air Services Agreement, and potential for eventual direct, scheduled airlift between the Bahamas and China would not just boost this nation’s tourism industry.
He suggested it would facilitate greater trade and investment between the Bahamas and Asia, not just China.
Deputy Prime Minister, Philip Davis, revealed on Sunday that both sides were reviewing the proposed Air Services Agreement as they sought to deepen tourism and trade ties.
Speaking at China’s 65th anniversary celebrations, Mr Davis said: “Both sides are reviewing an Air Services Agreement, which is a prerequisite for seamless one-stop travel between Nassau and key cities in China. That will further ensure legal and hassle free migratory flows between our two countries.”
Mr Davis hinted that the agreement was designed to build upon the Bahamas’ visa waiver agreement with China, which allows visa free travel for up to 30 days.
“This landmark and trend-setting event, not only for the Bahamas but also for the entire Caribbean, opens the way for easier travel of visitors and business persons between our two countries, and is one of the lynchpins in our strategy to ensure that the Baha Mar resort, right here on Cable Beach, will experience, when it opens, no impediments, as far as travel is concerned,” Mr Davis added.
“And, to speak even further on the plans for tourism links, the Ministry of Tourism is currently investigating the modalities for the imminent establishment of a Tourism Office in Beijing to promote, in an aggressive and effective manner, the wide range of leisure experiences that are offered here in the Bahamas for Chinese tourists, not only in Nassau and Grand Bahama but also in or many Family Islands.”
Responding to the Deputy Prime Minister’s comments, Mr Sands described the Air Services Agreement talks with China as “pivotal” to establishing better transport links to that country and Asia.
“This is something we’ve been working on for a long period of time,” he told Tribune Business. “This is a collaborative effort between the Governments of the Bahamas and China to put that in place.
“Once that’s put in place, coupled with the visa waiver agreement, these are two strategic initiatives that augur well for the movement of people between the Bahamas, and China and Asia.”
Acknowledging that it “plays into our strategic initiatives” at Baha Mar, Mr Sands added: “It just opens the gateway to the Bahamas from China for a large amount of Chinese nationals who wish to visit Baha Mar and the Bahamas.
“As we begin to open up a gateway to this area, we’re not only looking for tourists but investors to participate in the financial aspects of our business. There’s also trade.
“The numbers will start off small, but hopefully grow to at least sustain some kind of scheduled airlift between the two nations. The ability to have airlift from Asia greatly impacts hotel occupancies in the Bahamas, creates the conditions for trade, allows people to get to destinations easily, and allows tourists to travel. I think it will be a tremendous opportunity for both countries.”
Mr Sands said Air Services Agreements were bilateral treaties governing travel and tourism between countries. They detailed ‘reciprocal rights’, and terms of the air services between the two destinations.
“My understanding is we’re much further ahead in the negotiations than we were a few months ago,” Mr Sands told Tribune Business of the Bahamas-China talks. “Our hops is that it’s concluded in the not too distant future. Direct flights will not be immediate, but the administrative work is concluded to allow that to happen.”