Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar yesterday said he is not happy with the country’s tourism arrival numbers since border restrictions were softened, adding the pandemic has made fewer people want to travel.
“Of course I’m not happy with the numbers because they’re not even close to what they were in 2019. We’re a (glimmer) of our former self. There are impediments to travel, there is the need to get a PCR test within five days which we extended to seven days over the Christmas, there’s the need to get a visa and pay for a visa,” he said.
“All of these are impediments to travel, but we feel that that’s keeping the level of community spread to an acceptable level and so as we rolled out on the first of November, we’ve kind of maintained a relatively low number of COVID cases and a relatively low number of people in the hospital.
“So as I say as minister of tourism, I want to attract as many people as I want to in the country, but I want to do so safely so I have my foot on the gas and my foot on the brakes, trying to get that right balance to ensure that people come to the country, but do so safely and not infect our people or we infect them so that is the kind of balancing act that we’re trying to do in the Ministry of Tourism. The numbers of course are (down). . .but I think everyone understands that due to COVID-19, people are just travelling less.”
This comes after several major resorts, including Atlantis and Baha Mar, began phased reopening earlier this month, after a months-long shutdown due to high COVID-19 cases in the country.
Asked how many people have travelled to the country during the past month, Mr D’Aguilar could not say, only telling reporters that officials will be able to compare this year’s travel figures to last year’s by the end of this month.
“All I can tell you is based on what we’ve been processing through the Bahamas health visa and certainly, the teams that process all those visas were working extremely hard throughout the holiday,” he said.
“We’ve had thousands of people applying for arrivals and on the 27th and 28th, but how that compares in total obviously will be way down from 2019, but we were encouraged first of all that we had a system in place that was correctly vetting people that we had the ability to process the surge and demand and then everybody who wanted to travel on a particular day was either being approved, or denied or being processed before the date of travel and we’ll see how our numbers settle at the end of the month to see how our numbers compare.
“We won’t be happy, but we’ll be happy that a number of persons came and Bahamians have gone back to work in the hotel sector and we’re slowly, judicially bringing the sector back to life again.”
Yesterday, Mr D’Aguilar also defended the government’s decision to increase Bahamasair’s domestic travel fares. On Monday, the minister told Tribune Business the Minnis administration had no choice but to increase Bahamasair’s fares in a bid to contain “skyrocketing” losses that could hit $60m for the airline’s current financial year.
Yesterday, he told reporters: “The government felt that it has to do whatever it can to mitigate these substantial loses and is looking for every possible avenue and while it is painful and while we obviously don’t want to do it, these losses are just so substantial that they require an intervention and they require charging for the first bag and slight increases in domestic fares which have not budged in eight years.”
Asked why the international fares did not increase, he replied: “They are obviously governed by a revenue management system and they go up and down depending on demand and supply. The Family Island rates are fixed irrespective of data travel, irrespective of holiday and irrespective of time of year and so there was a slight adjustment in those prices.”