By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
The Bahamas Taxi Cab Union’s president yesterday said he was “very, very concerned” that the cruise lines will direct their passengers to bypass downtown Nassau whenever the industry resumes sailing.
Wesley Ferguson told Tribune Business he is fearful that his members, and all other sectors that depend on cruise tourism for their livelihoods, will be shut out upon the industry’s return after Nassau Cruise Port’s chief executive warned that passengers will likely be directed to the controlled environment of pre-booked tours to protect them from infection by COVID-19.
“I would like to respond to Michael Maura’s statement,” Mr Ferguson said. “He had an article in the paper where he was saying that he believes that the people of the downtown area, inclusive of the straw vendors, hair braiders, taxi drivers and the downtown merchant’s would not benefit from tourism arrivals by the cruise ships possibly until next year.
“The cruise ships are tentatively supposed to come here in late September or early October. He believes that they are going to make changes, and they intend to basically encourage these people on the cruise ship to stay within the confines of what the cruise ship has arranged for them.
“So they are going to have pre-arranged tours and transportation, where the cruise ship people are coming in and the cruise ship is going to direct them to a bus to go to some other destination that the cruise ship has pre-arranged, or that the cruise ships have agreed for them to go to,” Mr Ferguson added.
“Then the busses will wait on them and bring them back to the cruise ship, and they leave without interacting or going downtown or patronising any of the local businesses or the straw vendors downtown. I find that very, very concerning.”
Mr Maura had warned that the cruise lines may not let passengers “independently wander” down Bay Street until 2021 due to the ongoing threat posed by COVID-19. Voicing concern that taxi drivers will be left out when cruise ship passengers are allowed back into The Bahamas, Mr Ferguson added: “Only a handful of people will be getting some kind of benefit from the cruise ships coming back.
“When you look at it, America is a very, very sick place when it comes to COVID-19, and it seems as if everybody feels as if we are downplaying ourselves in The Bahamas, including the Ministry of Tourism. They are making it seem as if we are the ones that are sick, and that they have to protect the Americans from us. But nobody is saying who is going to protect us from the Americans.
“If you look at our COVID-19 figures, our figures are down. We have nine people now still infected, and we open the borders for international visitors on July 1. When you look at it in Europe, they are getting ready to ban American travellers,” he continued.
“But here it is. We who are very, very fortunate that we had strict measures taken against the COVID-19 through the ministry of health, have done well in spite of the rhetoric and negativity. We only had 11 deaths and only nine people, I think, are still infected. But then we are opening up our borders, and they are acting as if they have to protect Americans from us, instead of us from them.”
Mr Ferguson added: “We have not yet even decided or ironed out all of the logistics with tourists coming in here, because at first they didn’t even want to test the tourist. Then, secondly, when somebody blew the whistle they changed their mind.
“There is a lot of controversy in the United States as to whether or not they should wear masks. Now the Bahamas government is saying it is mandatory that you have to wear a mask in the taxi, so what if those tourists come here and decide that we are not wearing any masks because that is an issue in the United States.”
Mr Ferguson warned that tourism officials “are not aware” of the kinds of scenarios that may occur where Bahamian law is saying everyone must wear a mask in public, but Americans decide not to wear their masks.