By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas will experience a much more rapid post-COVID-19 economic recovery if all citizens do their part to prevent infection numbers exploding locally, a Cabinet minister urged yesterday.
Dionisio D’Aguilar, pictured, minister of tourism and aviation, told Tribune Business that it was “critical” to control, then eliminate, COVID-19’s presence in The Bahamas if this nation was to enjoy “a better experience” economically once the world got the pandemic under control.
He warned that The Bahamas cannot afford to suffer an experience similar to that of Italy, which was likely to be treated akin to a “pariah state” - along with the likes of Spain, South Korea and China - by international travellers post-crisis due to the thousands of COVID-19 related deaths and infections it has endured.
Mr D’Aguilar added that “emerging relatively unscathed” from COVID-19 would add another element to The Bahamas’ marketing arsenal when the pandemic passes, and will help to lure back visitors in a market where battered traveller confidence is likely to take some time to recover.
He pledged that the Ministry of Tourism and its industry partners will be “ready to go” when the time comes to “pull the trigger” on a renewed tourism marketing offensive in its core source markets of the US, Canada and Europe.
However, Mr D’Aguilar acknowledged that the restart of The Bahamas’ campaigns was likely still months away given that those countries and regions are still grappling with COVID-19 mortality and infection rates that have yet to peak.
“It’s very important that we emerge on the other side of this event by being a country that is relatively unscathed,” he told Tribune Business. “It’s absolutely critical.
“We cannot have the reputation or experience similar to the one they’re having in Italy. I can only imagine Italy as a pariah state for a while. We cannot fall into that category. That’s why we have to suffer now so we have a better experience on the other side of this event.
“People are complaining about the restrictions, but it’s not only important to save lives but also to come out of this with a good track record that we can then demonstrate to the world that we did well. We demonstrate that we did good to control the spread of the virus. We don’t want to be up in that list with China, South Korea, Italy and Spain,” Mr D’Aguilar continued.
“Then we can play to our strengths of proximity [to the US], multiple destinations with Nassau and the Family Islands. You can socially distance very easily, we have very good weather, and if something was to ever happen you’re not far from home. It’s not like going to Europe, Asia or South America. We are a short hop, skip and a jump from back home.”
The Bahamas has reported just five COVID-19 cases to-date, with the first one due to be released from quarantine imminently. However, Mr D’Aguilar admitted that the speed and extent of any tourism recovery will depend on events beyond The Bahamas’ control in its major tourism source market.
“It all depends on the US,” he added. “Eighty-two percent of foreign visitors come from the US. Until there is a semblance of calm in the US, and they’ve run through this coronavirus cycle, I think everything will be in abeyance until then.
“They’re going up the curve, and I don’t think by any measure they have peaked yet, and we have to wait for that to play out. If China is any example of what’s going to happen it’s going to take any number of months to play out.
“In essence, until there’s a cure everybody is going to be a bit afraid. It’s going to be rough. There’s obviously some time to go, and we’ve got to see how this plays out in the US. All eyes are on the US. To get our core industry back up and running is a function of what happens over there until they get on the other side of this curve.”
The US had by last night suffered 465 COVID-19 related deaths, and has more than 62,000 confirmed infections. Mr D’Aguilar acknowledged that the virus’s spread, including how many persons it kills or infects, was likely to have a profound impact on traveller “psyche” that the Ministry of Tourism’s marketing initiatives will have to combat when they revive.
The Ministry has already moved to withdraw or adjust ongoing promotional initiatives in light of the crisis, he added, and was talking to its various marketing and public relations agencies to determine the strategy whenever it returns to the market.
“It’s a question of when to pull the trigger, and we’re not there by any means,” Mr D’Aguilar told Tribune Business. “All the technical people are working on that, adjusting the ad campaigns. There’s sure to be pent-up demand.”
With airlines and hotels likely to offer discounted deals and rates to attract travellers once the crisis has passed, he added: “Whenever they’re ready to go we’ll be ready to go. We just have to work our way through this, and we’ll be ready.
“We’ll have to get the hotels back up again and the staff re-engaged, but I’m sure we can fire them back up pretty quickly. The bottom line is we’ll be ready, the Ministry of Tourism and our partners. We’ve got a lot of time to planning for that event.”