By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Several tour, attraction and excursion providers say they are struggling to understand and implement the necessary COVID-19 protocols after the Prime Minister yesterday gave the go-ahead for their July 13 re-opening.
Peter Rebmann,Pearl Island’s managing partner, indicated that the July restart would have little impact for his business given that “90 percent of our revenue is event and cruise line guests”. He added: “For us, it is no help.
“What is confusing for us is that the government reached out to every tour operator and announced that we would get the proper measurements from them, different kinds of rules from them, that we need to fulfill in order for us to get back into operation.
“It was also said from the government that a commissioner would come to the tour operator, and we would get a certificate that we would be allowed to run our business. I have not heard anything since then so I am not sure if I am allowed to open, because these details were all back in the e-mails we exchanged with the government.”
Mr Rebmann added: “We reached out several times, and we always hear that they are coming back to us but they never do. So when I heard that my major business would only be the tourists and the hotel guests, I have no guidelines and I don’t know if I am able to open in July or not?
“I’m not sure if anyone has any certificate from the government, and I don’t know what’s going on with that. The only reason I’m not concerned is that my business comes from the cruise lines and we are in close contact with all of them.”
Mr Rebmann acknowledged there will “most likely” be no cruise ship passengers before October and, even when they do return, passengers will be restricted to pre-planned and booked tours that meet the industry’s strict health requirements.
“There will be a few tour operators that will be operating in a safety bubble for their cruise ship guests, and that might be an opportunity for Blue Lagoon, Balmoral and Pearl Island, as we can show them the safety island bubble,” he added.
The prime minister yesterday said tour, attractions and excursions can re-open with effect from July 13. Vendors, including straw vendors, as well as jet ski operators will be able to return to work on July 27.
He added that the government has also reduced the window during which incoming tourists to The Bahamas must obtain a negative COVID-19 PCR swab test, slashing this from no later than ten days prior to travelling to just seven days before departure with effect from July 7 to better protect this nation against the surge in infections currently being experienced in the US.
Narine Ramotar, owner/operator of Nassau Snorkeling, said: “I’m not prepared at all. I’m having issues right now with boats, and I’m in the store right now trying to get everything back up and running.
He revealed he had to sell one of his vessels, and is now trying to repair an older one to get it into service. “I was already operating in the red, but my main vessel I was operating, I took it out and it ran out of oil, and I have to switch out engines. So I’m not prepared to open until I get everything sorted out, and I’m not so sure on how soon that is going to be,” Mr Ramotar added.
He said he took up fishing during the COVID-19 shutdown but added that it was insufficient to sustain himself as only generated enough income to buy food and pay small bills. “It was hard even to pay the dock fees. When you have to pay guys to go out fishing with you, it’s a lot different than taking tours,” Mr Ramotar said.
“I don’t agree with the opening now anyway, at least until all of these countries start clearing up. That is a big concern for me. I would not want to open up until I see how things really go. I’m already a small growing company with only six years in. This is a devastation on top of Hurricane Dorian, but I’m sticking it out.”
Jamie Lewis, owner/operator of Islandz Tours, said: “My preparedness is in line with the Ministry of Tourism’s clean and pristine certification programme, and we have incorporated a lot of those elements into our plans.”
Rising COVID-19 infection rates in the US are “definitely a cause for concern, Mr Lewis added, saying: “The number one priority has to be protecting the health of the Bahamian society, and we have to strike a balance with facilitating commerce, so I imagine that once the borders open and people start to come down everyone has to step up to the plate and make sure that they adhere to all of the protocols outlined by the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Health to make sure we mitigate against the spread of infection.”