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Cuba Threat Goes Beyond Tourism

By NATARIO McKENZIE

Tribune Business Reporter

nmckenzie@tribunemedia.net

Tourism is not the only Bahamian industry which could face competition as a result of the renewed diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US, a leading private sector executive said yeserday, arguing that

a greater concern was this nation’s failure to advance its own initiatives.

Gowon Bowe, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) chairman, told Tribune Business that while renewed ties between the US and Cuba are viewed as an imminent threat to this nation’s tourism industry, it could also present competition for financial services and medical tourism.

Mr Bowe said that while it is still “early days”, this nation should seek to get its affairs in order.

“As it relates to concern, it needs to be tempered by the mere fact that it is early days,” he explained. “The actual State Department and diplomatic activities that need to take place in order to actually see it open up liberally, I believe, provides us with a little bit of a time window in order to get our affairs in order.

“ We have to focus our attention with being satisfied that our tourism product, while it will be priced higher than Cuba, has to be superior. We need to be satisfied that we are prepared to compete on a value proposition basis in terms of quality for money.

“Our main objective is to ensure that we are actually running ahead by leaps and bounds, and not simply sticking behind the situation where we are, in fact, finding ourselves losing ground simply because we didn’t act with speed and haste in a very thought out and comprehensive matter.”

Carnival, the world’s largest cruise line, has announced that it is getting approval from Cuba to start running ‘cultural exchange’ trips to the island starting in May.

Last month, Cuba inked an agreement authorising daily US commercial flights to the island for the first time in more than 50 years. Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe, in a recent interview with Tribune Business, said there was enough tourism business to go around, and that this nation must focus on providing a quality product.

Mr Bowe added, however, that this nation’s tourism industry is not the only sector that stands to be challenged. “We immediately jump to tourism, but that is not solely the competitive environment that they present to us,” he said of Cuba.

“Their medical tourism or medical services sector, there are a number of surgeries and procedures that the Bahamas  has been looking to approve and have done here, like stem cell research.

“Certain stem cell surgeries that are currently not permitted in the US see actual North American customers having to travel as far as India, or sneak through the Bahamas into Cuba to have these types of procedures,” Mr Bowe added.

“ If Cuba opens up, and their medical facilities are better renowned for quality medical services, you could also see a significant loss of the potential of the medical tourism and the medical procedures industry.

“We also have the lifting of the tax on the US dollar currency in Cuba and the consideration of the Americans lifting their embargo as it relates to financial institutions and locations in Cuba. We have always seen our competitors as Panama, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, but if you don’t have currency restrictions like they have in Cuba and you do see a shift of activity and attention go to Cuba, then it could become a financial services sector competitor.”

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