By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Minister of Tourism last night said he "doesn't want to believe" that the weekend's boating tragedy in Exuma will result in any negative fall-out for The Bahamas' main industry.
Dionisio D'Aguilar, pictured, told Tribune Business that he was "not thinking" that the accident would deter visitors from coming to the Bahamas with its cause currently unknown.
Emphasising that he was "not trying in any way to belittle" the incident, the Minister said the Bahamas was a safe and enjoyable destination for almost all the six million-plus tourists who visit it on an annual basis.
"I don't think so and I don't want to believe so," Mr D'Aguilar replied, when asked whether the tragedy could damage the Bahamas' overall tourism product. "The cause of the accident is not yet known.
"It was just that; an accident. There's always going to be, in every destination in the world, an accident from time to time. It is extremely unfortunate what has happened, and my deepest sympathies go out to those that have suffered injury and loss of life. It's awful.
"Not to belittle it in any way, but accidents happen, and we try in every way to avoid or mitigate them," he continued. "Every destination in the world will, from time to time, experience these types of events and hopefully they're very few and very far between.
"I'm not thinking this will deter people from making plans to come to the Bahamas. More often than not, for 99.9 per cent it's a safe and fun place to come and spend a holiday. It's awful; just awful what has happened. We're trying as best we can to comfort and console the families. My best wishes and sympathies go out to them. I can't imagine what they're going through."
Pedro Rolle, the Exuma Chamber of Commerce's president, told Tribune Business that the "possibility exists" that the tragedy, which left one visitor dead and 10 others injured, could negatively impact both the island's and wider tourism industry depending on how it is covered in the international media.
"Whenever you've got situations like this the possibility exists, depending on what actually happened and how it is portrayed in the media," he said. "That's going to make the determination. If something comes up that's negative in nature it's going to have a negative impact.
"We still don't know what caused this, but any tragedy has a negative impact on the business side of it. If people worry about it, it's going to impact their decision to come, unfortunately."
While the accident's cause is still undetermined, it has resulted in extra scrutiny being applied to the Bahamas. It is bound, in the short term at least, to raise questions over whether greater oversight and regulation of tour, attraction and excursion providers - especially in the Family Islands - is necessary, along with vessel maintenance and safety issues.
The accident was yesterday a lead featured item on the local Florida news and throughout the US, as well as international media, with the striking pictures of the vessel on fire and video of rescue efforts proving a strong draw for both print, online and TV mediums.
Three American visitors remained at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) last night, two of them in the Intensive Care Unit. The deceased, a woman, and the others have not been publicly identified. Some had stayed at the Sandals Emerald Bay resort.
The group was touring with Exuma's largest tour operator, Four C's Adventures, when one of the boat's engines exploded, police said, causing a fire that sent thick smoke billowing into the air and unleashed a frantic effort to save lives. The explosion happened within minutes of the tour's launch.