BY NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The Minister of Tourism has admitted that Bay Street “is like a dying centre”, as he pushes for duty-free shopping status to tackle its lack of variety and recognised retail brands.
Obie Wilchcombe said that making downtown Nassau a duty-free shopping zone will ultimately lure more tourists as well as locals, adding that the area has too many jewellery stores and had been ‘infiltrated’ by foreigners.
In an interview with Tribune Business, Mr Wilchcombe acknowledged that there is a need to increase cruise visitor spending in the downtown area, adding that this could only be achieved if the product was improved.
He said Bay Street has few visible brands, and should be a shopping and restaurant centre.
The Minister was speaking to Tribune Business following the release of a tri-annual survey by the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), which listed The Bahamas as the most expensive destination for the cruise ship industry, and also found that total cruise passenger spending in Freeport and Nassau had ‘flat-lined’ over the past three years.
“Bay Street has John Bull and very few other brands,” Mr Wilchcombe admitted. “Bay Street should be a shopping centre and restaurant centre.
“If you look at the west, where Baha Mar is, and Paradise Island, they are going to have attractions. Bay Street is like a dying centre; it needs life. We have to bring life to Bay Street. We have to do some dynamic things. We have to cause for shopping to be better.
“If you look at what’s happening on Bay Street, we have allowed Bay Street to be infiltrated with too many foreigners, and they are dominating the stores . We have so many jewellery stores,” he added.
“We just did a survey of the number of stores on Bay Street, and of the just under 300 stores many are simply jewellery stores, and we are not providing enough variety. Some of the top brands in the world should be on Bay Street.”
Mr Wilchcombe said he had been appointed by Prime Minister Perry Christie to chair a Cabinet sub-committee that will examine how to make Bay Street more “viable”.
“We are preparing comments now. I’m pushing that Bay Street can become that duty free area that will cause more visitors and Bahamians to come and shop. We have to find a way to do it, and we’re working on that now,” said Mr Wilchcombe.