BAHA Mar President Graeme Davis announced the resort will not be opening for the next three months.
By Malcolm Strachan
IT is no secret that success in the hotel business is a simple numbers game – the quantity of heads in beds. Hence, we should all hopefully be able to understand what Baha Mar’s delayed opening until October means in the grand scheme of things. Sure, most of us are sick of this new normal. No one is a fan of the lockdowns and the unencumbered authority held by the prime minister during the state of emergency. And certainly, no one wants to be laid off or have their business shuttered. All of this is totally understandable.
Our economic problems explain why we are so eager for border controls to be lifted and for tourists to return but the danger is this could only make matters worse.
With a general theme in the US surrounding the falling away of maintaining physical distancing measures – particularly in states such as Florida where the vast majority of our visitors hail from – we are playing a high stakes game of Russian roulette. As former Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands says, it is definitely a gamble amid increasing COVID-19 cases in Florida.
What is troubling is how little discussion around this is being had by the government. Or if there is discussion, the Bahamian people aren’t being let in on those conversations.
Everyone is so hellbent on reopening that little consideration is being given to what we are welcoming and who we’re putting at risk.
Surprisingly, and as difficult a decision it certainly must have been, Baha Mar President Graeme Davis announced the resort will not be opening for the next three months. Stating the resort’s commitment to continue paying employees over the period, we can appreciate that a six-month haemorrhaging in any industry is difficult. Particularly when your business model is so heavily reliant on uncontrollable variables such as the health of your customers – and perhaps even more important, your staff.
This, if nothing else, should help those who are only pushing for the country to return to what it was before to see that it is just not a realistic proposition right now and possibly for the near future. COVID-19 has turned the old world on its head and Bahamians, due to our lack of diversification of revenue streams, will suffer if America doesn’t get its house in order.
Just as foreshadowed in this space weeks ago when Americans would have been celebrating Memorial Day weekend, a resurgence has taken place in COVID-19 cases. Individuals’ desires to live “normally” and ignore social distancing guidelines, along with the mass protests, are currently creating the perfect storm for Floridians.
Numbers taken from a study by the Miami Herald revealed 64 of the 67 counties in the state saw roughly a 42 percent increase in cases of COVID-19 heading into the second phase of its reopening earlier this month. On a more alarming note, Thursday and Friday marked the state’s highest single-day tallies – 1,698 and 1,902 respectively. In more sober-minded parts of the country, the fear is real. Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute Dr Ashish Jha believes coronavirus-related deaths could reach 200,000 by September. This was indicated under the premise that the current number in the U.S. would remain consistent within the current range of 800 to 1,000 lives being lost per day.
What does all of this mean for us? Nothing good, that’s for certain.
Our options are limited, as we know we are not going to be able to revamp the country’s economic model overnight. Nor will we benefit by kicking successive governments and citizens in the pants for decades of short-sightedness and an inability to modernise.
Now, modernisation is so far from our reach when the vast majority of the country’s GDP is made on the back of tourism. Baha Mar, our second largest tourism draw only behind Atlantis, may have only been the first domino to fall. We should not be surprised if we hear a similar response coming from Atlantis in the coming weeks as we all wait and watch. Unable to do anything else, we are truly at the mercy of what’s happening in America. And any ideas or dreams that the country’s reopening will lift us out of this quicksand in the short-term are nonsensical.
Thankfully, Bahamians will be able to enjoy some of the freedoms we were used to and local businesses will be able to reopen. However, the decision made by governments past and present to focus so heavily on tourism will come back to bite us. Make no mistake, the hoteliers aren’t calling the shots as nothing can be certain when dealing with such a monster. Even the decision to delay reopening until October is not guaranteed as the decision makers in our main source market - the U.S. - aren’t concerned with who travels to The Bahamas and who doesn’t. They certainly have bigger fish to fry with 2020 being an election year and President Trump already showing an eagerness to hit the campaign trail to rally his supporters.
That, along with the protests and Americans just wanting to live life again, all indicate tough times for Bahamians. This is what needs to be understood. Our government would be better off setting these realistic expectations for the Bahamian people.
We may have successfully evaded COVID-19 domestically up until this point, but at a cost most are not willing to continue paying. And as the conversation of expanding our testing capacity has diminished, it would seem the Bahamian people need to demand that both testing and screening at the border become the highest priority come July 1. Else, the prices we would have paid in lost income, dashed business plans, opportunities to bury loved ones and many other things we once considered normal, would have all been in vain.