TOURISM Readiness and Recovery Committee, pictured from left: Carlton Russell, President, Bahamas Hotel & Tourism Association and VP Operations, Atlantis; Robert Sands, Sr. VP, BHTA and SVP of Government and Community Relations, Baha Mar; Suzanne Pattusch, Executive VP, BHTA; Minister D’Aguilar; Director General Joy Jibrilu; Vernice Walkine, VP, BHTA and CEO and President, Nassau Airport Development Co. Ltd.; and Stuart Bowe, Immediate Past President, BHTA, and Sr. VP and GM Hotel Operations, Atlantis. Photo: Kemuel Stubbs/BIS
By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
THE Bahamas’ tourism industry will begin a phased opening on June 15 when boaters, yachters and private pilots will be allowed into the country, the Ministry of Tourism announced yesterday.
The industry’s much anticipated full opening will take place on July 1.
Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar made the announcement at a Zoom press conference held by his ministry and the Tourism Readiness and Recovery Committee.
“This phased approach will start on June 15, when boaters, yachters and private aviation will be invited to experience The Bahamas destination,” Mr D’Aguilar said. “Tourism will begin with these smaller, special interest groups as they provide a more controlled segment to test its measure. These groups will have to pre-register electronically, allowing health officials to determine their risk level.”
He added that during this phase, commercial airlines will be allowed to bring in Bahamian citizens, legal residents, homeowners or their immediate family members. All returning residents will have to obtain a monocular swab PCR COVID-19 test with a negative result. On Monday, Mr D’Aguilar told The Tribune officials are still considering whether the government will require tourists to produce a negative PCR test result to gain entry into the country but have ruled out visitors being forced into quarantine.
It is anticipated that during this first phase, there will be a reduced number of flights and airlines will begin adding The Bahamas to their schedules once again.
Additionally, he said yesterday, hotels will begin reopening to allow staff to begin to work, putting in place all the measures required to ensure they are ready for the full opening on July 1.
“Readying The Bahamas for tourism in a post-COVID world is quite challenging with many nuances and considerations to plan for,” said Mr D’Aguilar.
“The Tourism Readiness and Recovery Committee was established to develop a collaborative plan for reopening and to provide health and safety protocols to be followed consistently across the country. Because of the detailed plan that is being put forth, I am confident that tourism is prepared to officially open its borders, hotels and transportation sector successfully to international commercial travel on July 1, 2020.”
The tourism industry generated a record 7.2 million visitors in 2019. However, in March Mr D’Aguilar said we were facing an economic calamity due to COVID-19 bringing tourism to a screeching halt.
“The sacrifice has been huge,” he said. “The affects on employment and income generation have been enormous for many, many Bahamians. I am delighted to be here and change the discussion from one about lockdowns and curfews to one about reopening. The one thing you learn about tourism, is that it is extremely resilient. Yes, it is subject to shocks, like hurricanes, economic downturns and now pandemics, but no matter what type of licking you put on tourism, it always seems to bounce back better and stronger.”
Although excited about the reopening date, Mr D’Aguilar warned travel and tourism will be markedly different from what it was prior to COVID-19. Many new policies, safety measures and precautions, he said, will be introduced to ensure the continued health and wellbeing of Bahamian residents and visitors alike.
“It is critical, however, that health and safety protocols are adhered to and that the health sector remains in a state of readiness to respond,” the minister added. “Therefore, before the proposed general opening of our borders on the 1st of July, it is intended that there be a phased opening of the tourism sector prior to this date.
“It is important that once the destination reopens we are able to demonstrate immediately that we are indeed in a state of readiness. The Ministry of Tourism is of course very pleased with the announcement made yesterday (Monday) that will see the return of domestic travel in the Islands of the Bahamas for residents and review this as the beginning of the whole readiness efforts. This measure certainly allows LPIA to test their protocols before welcoming guests when we reopen completely.”
Phase Two of the tourism reopening plan, which begins July 1, includes resumption of commercial airlines both international and domestic; reopening of hotels and vacation rentals inclusive of Airbnb and HomeAway; as well as transportation ranging from taxis to buses. The timing of the other phases and sectors will be announced shortly, the minister said.
Tourism Director General Joy Jibrilu could not give exact figures on forward bookings, but said the numbers will be available shortly.
“I think from today with the announcement that we have made, we are able to reach out and let them know that they now can load up The Bahamas as a destination,” she noted. “The interest that we are seeing generated and the feedback for August and September and certainly Thanksgiving period, we can begin getting actual bookings. In a very short period of time we will be able to put tangible figures behind that. But it was very difficult for airlines to know what to do about The Bahamas until they knew definitively from us when we will reopen.”
She said similarly for the hotels, now they can announce officially July 1 as an opening day and can report to tourism officials about forward bookings.
All tourism-related staff will have to be retrained using COVID-19 safety measures before the July 1 reopening date, officials said.