Travel relaxation is 'breath of fresh air'


Tribune Business Editor


Bahamian aviation operators yesterday hailed then Government's decision to relax COVID-19 inter-island travel restrictions for Christmas as "a breath of fresh air" for the hard-hit sector.

Anthony K Hamilton, president of the Bahamas Association of Air Transport Operators, told Tribune Business that changes to the Emergency Powers orders that extend the validity of a negative COVID-19 PCR test to seven days between today and January 4, 2021, had already sparked a noticeable increase in travel inquiries by Bahamians and foreigners.

The move effectively removes the need for a five-day rapid antigen test for persons travelling from New Providence and Grand Bahama to the Family Islands, thereby reducing the cost and red tape associated with moving around The Bahamas to visit family over the holiday season.

"It certainly is a positive boost," Mr Hamilton told this newspaper. "We're beginning to get further inquiries for travel, so it's showing signs of having an impact already. It's been an improvement from what we've been seeing, so definitely that decision has made a positive impact.

"We still have a way to go to get back to normal traffic, no question about that. We're grateful for whatever improvement this brings because the expenses of operators don't stop. It's a matter of now getting revenues to offset those expenses. This was badly needed, and the timing was quite admirable. This is a breath of fresh air, and everyone's trying to make the most of it."

Mr Hamilton, though, acknowledged that "the jury's still out" on the strength and timing of the Bahamian domestic aviation industry's recovery following nine months of COVID-19 lockdowns, curfews and other restrictions that effectively grounded the sector for much of that time.

With the industry heavily reliant on tourism and international air travel rebounding, given that it acts as a 'feeder' for transporting visitors to the Family Islands, Mr Hamilton said: "It's a touch and go situation right now. We're hoping things move ahead steadily because then we will begin to see some recovery, but if we have to start and stop, that would be a negative. We don't need that.

"It's all linked. We will start to see more benefits as the bigger picture comes together, with all the cylinders in the engine clicking, so we look forward to that. The priming of the pump has been generated, slow it might be, but nevertheless there's a priming. Hope has been generated."

Faron Sawyer, president of Cherokee Air, told Tribune Business inter-island travel has picked up “quite a bit” since the country reopened and the Government removed the mandatory 14-day quarantine for domestic travellers from New Providence and Grand Bahama.

He said: “Last week we were very busy. This week it slowed down a little, but Bahamian people like to make plans later. But it looks like today is going to be pretty good and Thursday. On Friday, we close down for Christmas unless there is a special customer on that day, but we try give the staff that day off.”

Mr Sawyer warned, however, that another spate of lockdowns could slow down the pace of inter-island travel tremendously. He added: “Even though people have to get their visas and stuff, they are doing that and it's coming along pretty good.”


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