By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMIANS are bracing for financial pain after global coronavirus fears began to cause major cancellations to businesses this week.
Tour operators, taxi drivers and major hotels are beginning to report the significant changes.
The owner of one company, Exuma Water Sports, said the company lost between $45,000 and $50,000 through cancellations this week alone. “We’ve not experienced anything like this before,” Rebecca Lightbourn, 35, said yesterday. “I’ve received well over two dozen emails in cancellations today, big corporate groups in particular and a group of 66 people cancelled last week because of coronavirus and another group of 80 have cancelled for next Wednesday.”
Robert Sands, Baha Mar’s senior vice president, said the resort is now seeing a booking pace that is “far off where it was this time last year.”
“We’ve had a number of postponements of people rebooking and rescheduling, but our business still for Spring Break looks very strong,” he said.
Some people cancelling reservations know there are no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in The Bahamas but are reportedly trying to save money in case of a protracted global shutdown.
“We’ve had business owners reach out who are advised to now save money instead of travelling,” said Sandra Ferguson, owner of Sandra Taxi & Tours in New Providence. She had ten cancellations for the day when she spoke to this newspaper before noon yesterday, saying: “They are cancelling every minute.”
Such is the impact that Ms Ferguson has stopped pre-paid charges to people making bookings.
“We won’t charge them until closer to the time,” she said. “It’s double work because people are now cancelling. Once we send money back to their cards, we have to take on the fees as well.”
Ms Ferguson and Ms Lightbourn run small businesses with fewer than 15 employees respectively. They are concerned about what will happen to their staff if normalcy takes long to resume.
“For now, we can keep our employees but their days might get cut,” Ms Ferguson said. “We have hired drivers. They have homes and children to take care of. We’re taking it one day at a time. We’re going to be impacted very drastically because this seems to be worse than when the hurricane comes around. I’m now sending back $800 worth of refunds from last night to today.”
Wesley Ferguson, president of the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union, said one consolation taxi drivers have is that many college students on Spring Break have not been cancelling their vacations.
However, he said: “The airport is already slow. Passengers on cruise ships have already diminished tremendously. All the tour companies are saying they have massive cancellations. This is supposed to be peak season with Spring Break. Nassau is supposed to be inundated with tourists. It’s become a little bit frightening.”
The government began cancelling events as well yesterday. The country will no longer host the 50th Annual Organisation of American States meeting in June. Officials believe the cumulative impact of Hurricane Dorian and the coronavirus is too great to spend millions on an event that will reap diminishing returns for the country, according to a source.
For his part, Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said the coronavirus’ impact on tourism will be “significant.”
“This will probably be painful for the next two months or at minimum through the end of the second quarter,” he said. “Up until maybe the end of last week, our numbers for March and April seemed to be holding certainly in the stopover business but as every day evolves and you get messages pumped into your subconscious like the one President Trump delivered (on Wednesday night), more and more people are deciding that nonessential travel is really not necessary and there is a growing desire to cancel any planned vacations.”