'Body blow' for tourism restart

Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.

Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.


Tribune Business Editor


The tourism industry’s revival has suffered “a body blow” by the continued Atlantis and cruise industry uncertainty, a Cabinet minister has conceded, as commercial travel to the US was yesterday cut-off.

Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, told Tribune Business that The Bahamas’ efforts to restart its major industry had fallen “victim” to the inability of its largest visitor source market to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control.

Acknowledging that this nation’s fate was “tied hook, line and sinker” to that of the US, which provides 82 percent of its tourist market, Mr D’Aguilar said Atlantis had simply decided it was “too risky” to re-open on July 30 given the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases in Florida, Texas and other states that provide a significant percentage of its customer base.

The Paradise Island mega resort on Friday opted for “an extended closure” until the health risks subsided, its move coming just days after the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) extended its ‘no sail’ order on the cruise line industry until September 30, 2020.

The final blow to any lingering hopes of a swift tourism recovery was dealt yesterday evening when the prime minister announced the suspension of all commercial flights and passenger vessels between The Bahamas and US, with effect from Wednesday, July 22, in a bid to contain the renewed COVID-19 outbreak on New Providence and Grand Bahama.

“Once again we are a victim of the events that are unfolding in our number one market, which is the US,” Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business. “That is not lending itself to further expanding the opening of the tourism sector in The Bahamas given our economic dependency on the US for our foreign visitors.

“We continue to be a victim of what is happening in the US, and our major hotels that rely on that market are unfortunately being impacted by that. Our fate is tied to what happens in the US, and until that gets sorted our largest hotel properties are so concerned they don’t want to risk opening until the US gets a handle on the pandemic.”

Mr D’Aguilar disputed suggestions that The Bahamas was too swift to re-open its borders, especially to US visitors and travel by Bahamians in the other direction, arguing that the country had been seeking to strike “the balance” between the health risks and preventing a total economic collapse.

Acknowledging that many European states, and countries in the southern Caribbean, had chosen to not encourage travel by American tourists, he argued that The Bahamas’ near-total dependence on the US for more than four out of every five visitors meant it “did not have the luxury” to follow their lead at a time when COVID-19 had initially appeared to be contained in its northern neighbour.

“The safest thing to do is nothing,” Mr D’Aguilar said. “At the time when we made the decision [to re-open the borders] in May/June, Florida and Texas were not in the state they are now. As we have said over and over again, we’re trying to get the balance right and adjust as things unfold.

“Everyone can armchair quarterback this decision, but we made one and as events unfold you make adjustments. The key is to make the right decision based on the information you have....

“Clearly, the longer we take to open the tourism sector, the more impactful it is on our economy. Every delay is a body blow. Unfortunately we are in the throes and grip of a worldwide pandemic we cannot control, and that is continuing to have a deteriorating effect on our economy.”

Atlantis, in confirming that it has now abandoned its fifth re-opening date, elected not to give a revised re-opening timeline. However, its website gives an indication of what it is thinking, as it informs potential guests that reservations booked from June 15, 2020, “can be cancelled at no charge up to 72 hours before your scheduled arrival” through to November 20, 2020.

That indicates that the Paradise Island destination resort, widely regarded as the flagship brand and property for The Bahamas, is unlikely to reopen for several months until early fall - and possibly as late as the Thanksgiving holiday. The timing will depend heavily on when The Bahamas’ re-opens its borders to US travel and whether that market has COVID-19 under control.

Audrey Oswell, Atlantis’ president and managing director, said in a weekend message to guests: “As we all adjust to living and operating in our new normal, one thing that continues to prove constant is change.........

“While our resort and incredibly professional team members are prepared and trained to welcome guests and ensure the health, safety and well-being of every individual that walks through our doors, as you are aware, the variables surrounding the COVID-19 virus have not improved. The continuous rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases in many of our key US markets has impacted our decision to reopen.

“From the onset of the pandemic, the health and safety of our team members, guests and community is our highest priority. For this reason, we are extending Atlantis’ closure for the time being. While we are fuelled by the opportunity to welcome our guests back, we believe that remaining closed is in the best interest of public health at this time.”

Ms Oswell said the decision to postpone had “weighed very heavily on our entire Atlantis team”. With Baha Mar, too, not scheduled to re-open until October 2020 at earliest, the move by its Paradise Island rival means that The Bahamas’ two largest resorts and private sector employers will be off-line for at least a further two-and-a-half months if not more.

It will also result in the several thousand Bahamians who would have expected to return to work as part of Atlantis’ phase one re-opening having to remain on home on temporary furlough, resulting in continued pressure on the National Insurance Board (NIB) and government for income support and the payment of benefits.

While the fiscal impact may be minimised to some extent because the Government’s 2020-2021 Budget anticipated no tourism sector revenue contribution until November and the Thanksgiving holiday, the delayed re-opening will also depress purchasing power and disposable income among Atlantis employees.

The ‘ripple effects’ will thus be felt throughout the economy, with the move also likely to undermine what fragile business and investor confidence remain. Many other resorts and companies take their cue from Atlantis, and those which supply products and services to the property, and/or cater to their guests, may now be forced into cost cutting measures that include permanent staff terminations.

However, Friday’s announcement from Atlantis may have made it easier for the Prime Minister to yesterday announce the closure of The Bahamas’ borders to international commercial flights travelling between this nation and the US.

With both Atlantis and Baha Mar closed, along with other prominent properties such as Sandals Royal Bahamian and Club Med, the loss of business and any reputational damage will be minimised - especially since the move is occurring just as The Bahamas enters the slowest part of its tourism season.

“International commercial flights and commercial vessels carrying passengers will not be permitted to enter our borders, except for commercial flights from Canada, the UK, and the European Union. This will come into effect as of Wednesday, July 22, 2020 at midnight,” Dr Hubert Minnis said. “Bahamasair will cease outgoing flights to the United States of America, effective immediately.”

Some may view the suspension as being more about preventing Bahamians travelling to COVID-19 hot-spots in the US. Private aviation, and boaters and yachters, will still be permitted to enter The Bahamas, which is likely to create some relief for the Family Island economies that have received a much-needed boost from the tourism restart.

Mr D’Aguilar, meanwhile, conceded that the COVID-19 crisis and economic fall-out will last “probably longer than we thought it would”. He added: “Now nobody knows when it’s really going to be over. Everyone thought the summer would be when we get an abatement of the virus, but it seems like it’s spiralled out of control and we have not got to winter yet when people think it will get worse.

“It’s a little disappointing that the situation in the US continues to head in the direction it is, and that is impacting the ability of the tourism sector to bounce back. The bottom line is that until certain states in the US get this pandemic under control, we’re going to continue to suffer sadly. I don’t care what business you’re in right now, you’re going to be impacted.”


proudloudandfnm 3 years, 9 months ago

Seriously. Who was dumb enough to believe tourism would come back in the middle of a global pandemic? That's just dumb. That's not strategy, that's trump like magical thinking. Please get real and lets start dealing with reality....


tribanon 3 years, 9 months ago

And to think this bumbling idiot D'Aguilar readily admits that he and doofus Minnis were trying to balance the risk of Covid-19 community spread, i.e. potential deaths of Bahamians, against our country's need for hard currency from a few dare devil tourists willing to vacation in the midst of a deadly pandemic.

It's all to clear that neither D'Aguilar nor Minnis have an ounce of common sense. We are learning the hard way that their stupidity in fully re-opening our borders to travellers from the US on July 1 has needlessly endangered all of us, but especially the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, not to mention our exhausted healthcare workers.


birdiestrachan 3 years, 9 months ago

doc has made the USA headlines "USA Tourist are banned from the Bahamas" last week USA tourist were handcuffed and brought before the courts.

Are the Countries that are not banned COVID Free?

Doc started out wrong and he continues to muddle along. IF the hotels had opened and then the close borders what would have been their fate?2421/


tribanon 3 years, 9 months ago

D'Aguilar is lying through his teeth in an attempt to rewrite history while back peddling on the most foolish and stupid decision ever made by two cabinet members - Minnis and himself. These two clueless and directionless clowns knew well ahead of their ludicrous decision to re-open our border to travellers from the US that many states in the US, especially Florida, were experiencing major surges in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations. They also knew well ahead of their absurd decision to re-open our international borders on July 1 that all of the major hotels on New Providence had already decided to indefinitely postpone the re-opening of their doors to business and that the CDC had effectively put the kibosh on the cruise line industry for many months to come, if not much longer.


ISpeakFacts 3 years, 9 months ago

Only a matter of time until this country is completely sold off to Xi Jinping and China, Minnis no doubt is a Chinese puppet following the orders of none other than Huang Qinguo!


ThisIsOurs 3 years, 9 months ago

"“Everyone can armchair quarterback this decision, but we made one and as events unfold you make adjustments. The key is to make the right decision based on the information you have...."

This is the scariest statement ever. Because noone was armchair quarterbacking. Literally the entire country was asking how did we move from stage one to stage 3 and 1/2? and on what basis did we move from 3.5 to 4. Then from 4 to 5. There were no metrics. Its was all "enough time has passed lets move forward". Everybody except DAguilar it seems knew this from May/June. This is really scary, the inability to plan and just make common sense choices is killing people. And now that the glory has dropped out of being health minister Minnis pass the hot potato to someone else. He's literally reversed all the efforts of Sands, Dahl Reghis and team.


Hoda 3 years, 9 months ago

Well Chester Cooper just put out a statement expressing his disappointment that Sandals Emerald Bay has decided to close since commerical flights have stopped. So, i suppose exumians felt like the country should be open.


Hoda 3 years, 9 months ago

P.s if you look at threads on other sites, Bahamians seemed very concerned about the financial pressures they are feeling, to the point that they saying “they may be alive but broke” or unable to support themselves.


ThisIsOurs 3 years, 9 months ago

I never said don't open. What I've said is base the decision on something. Exactky what did opening on July 1 "on schedule" do for us? All the cruise ships backed out, all the hotels backed out and we got 50 cases of the virus in 2 weeks. If the sitting Mps had all looked at the data they could have collectively said opening too early will do us more harm than good


BONEFISH 3 years, 9 months ago

The government pushed to reopen for July 1st as it was the start of it's new fiscal year.The resurgence of COV-19 will put a big dent in their fiscal position and people's personal finances.

Persons are hanging on by a thread.Yet a lot of persons who live in their bubbles here on New Providence don't seem to know that tourism is basically our only source of foreign exchange. Our main source of stop-over tourists is the US market.Europeans and Canadians visit other islands in the Caribbean more than the Bahamas.


tribanon 3 years, 9 months ago

And boneheads don't seem to understand that Americans are not inclined to travel anywhere in great numbers in the midst of a global pandemic, especially one raging in many places in their own country. Anyone who thinks a country's economy can function during out-of-control community spread of the deadly Communist China Virus needs to have their head examined.

Even the US with all of its resources is realizing the so called "balancing act" of Covid-19 vs the economy may not be possible during times when there is out-of-control community spread of the deadly Communist China Virus.


ThisIsOurs 3 years, 9 months ago

it doesnt matter if tourism.is our bread and butter or not. We opened and the hotels and cruise lines remained shut and the tourists didn't show up in any meaningful numbers.

What does matter is if the world feels it's safe to travel


SP 3 years, 9 months ago

All this thanks to uncle Donald Trump! I shudder to think of the name calling in this situation had he been a black president.


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