By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Water sports operators yesterday revealed the industry is almost completely shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Kamar Chandon, general manager of KC Watersports Bahamas, told Tribune Business: “They shut down the cruise ships and stuff, so we are closed down for business until further notice.
With no idea on how long he will be closed, Mr Chandon added: “It depends. We are waiting on the ‘OK’ from Sandals, and if they decide they are going to close down then everything is just shut down, but 30 percent of our business comes from the cruise lines.”
“The hotel doesn’t support my business enough, because mostly their guests are pre-booked, so they take excursions with the bigger companies and go out like to Exuma and things like that.”
Mr Chandon, though, continued: “In terms of the government closing [things] down, it’s a good move. The government has to try because otherwise the virus will multiply and get worse, so you have to get it under control. I feel like you have to take a loss to get a gain in the long-term.
“With the cruise lines, a few thousand people come on that ship and it is easier to get infected that way... Trump decided to put a clamp down on the cruise lines for 30 days, trying to get control of the situation, so us in The Bahamas we have to go along with the flow. We had a lot of cancellations, and we had to refund fully without any penalties due to the situation. It is not the customer’s fault, so we can’t give them a hard time.”
Mr Chandon said his business does not plan to lay-off any staff, and said, “We have a small staff, just two workers. It’s a family business and I will talk to my family members about looking into the unemployment benefits for ourselves.”
Meanwhile, Raymond Lightbourn, general manager of Exuma Watersports, said: “The stores are going crazy over here. It’s totally affected us. We have had pretty much all of our reservations cancelled now, something close to 700 reservations that we had and we’re on the verge of closing.
“We are actually waiting on Sandals to close, and then we will be closing the same time with them. They have not closed yet and all of our trips for today are already cancelled, and we only had two people that wanted to go out on our boats and it would not have been worth it. It’s any day now we are likely going to be closed.
“I think maybe we will be closed for up to three weeks, but realistically we could be closed for up to three months,” said Mr Lightbourn. “We are losing all of our revenue and not just what’s supposed to come in, but we still have to pay for insurance and everything else that we pay; licensing; and we have some 13 staff.
“We are having a meeting today with the staff and we will see what they have to say and we will make a decision today on what we have to do. We are going to see who wants to take a vacation right now, and National Insurance is going to kick in for part of the salary. We’re not sure how much yet; we are trying to find out right now and there is still a lot up in the air.”
Nicholas Pinder, general manager of Born Free Fishing Charters, told Tribune Business: “It’s probably going to be very similar to any of the other tourism businesses. At the moment we have still been OK because we had a lot of the residual tourists left since a lot of the travel bans have been put in place, but as of today that sort of dies off.
“We expect less than 10 percent of our normal business and we don’t know how we are going to get our staff paid. We should really lay them off but that is not really our forte. In reality they probably should be laid off until tourism picks back up, and by not laying them off the company is taking the loss.”
Astra Nottage, director of sales and marketing for My Own Watersports, said: “As of March 16 we made a decision that we will be closed until April 7. Obviously due to the fluidity of the situation that’s not certain, and it is not set in stone.
“We are hoping by then that some of the international borders will open up. The cruise ships have indicated that the first week of April they will start, and that is what we are benchmarking our date from.”
Ms Nottage said there were no plans to lay-off staff, and said: “What’s happening right now is that we are constantly in discussions on how we can help our staff. We presently have 13 staff members on, and three of them are not full on, and we are trying to make sure we are assisting our staff until business can pick up but we are not planning on laying off our staff.”
“Most of our business is based online. Online booking and sales is where 90 percent of our business comes from. If businesses in The Bahamas would take that step, you would see that when those borders do open up they would have some pre-bookings because there are people right now that are booking for May. Of course April has been wiped out, but we do have bookings now for May.”