By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government is looking at several dates to resume tourism operations in the country, Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar revealed yesterday.
He added that officials are in constant discussions over the matter, but will not make any final decisions until given the “green light” by health professionals.
In the meantime, the minister said tourism officials will be revisiting their marketing campaign and strategising on how to facilitate visitors to the country once the COVID-19 restrictions have lifted.
He said: “My focus as the minister of tourism is to really get our tourism industry back on track. We have all of the industry partners meeting and strategising on how we’re going to open given these new COVID conditions.
“It’s very inclusive and everybody’s participating looking at the airports looking at how you travel from the airports to the hotel, what’s the process going to be when you go into the hotel. What are the requirements for foreign visitors coming into the country?”
He continued: “(We’re) looking at other destinations to see when they’re opening and when we want to open. (We’re) taking into consideration local concerns and so it’s a very robust and time-consuming conversation that is preparing our industry to re-open and get foreign currency coming back in and get foreign visitors coming back in the country to get people employed.”
Last month, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis unveiled a phased strategy for re-opening the Bahamian economy, saying the country’s advancement to each stage will be determined by “metrics and advice by the healthcare professionals.”
According to the plan, the country is currently in phase 1b, which allows businesses to offer pick-up and delivery services if they are able to do so. It is not clear when the country will move to the next stage or even the fifth stage, which would allow The Bahamas’ borders to open for international travel and for tourism to resume.
Speaking on the matter yesterday, Mr D’Aguilar told reporters that officials had several dates “in mind” concerning the opening of the country’s borders and the restart of the tourism economy.
He said: “So, we’ve got some dates in mind. I would prefer not to put them in the public domain yet. It’s a function of how we’re doing or how we’re perceived to be doing on the ground from a health perspective.
“So, we’re working towards a reopening and just waiting for the green light from the Ministry of Health that we’re good to go. Obviously, that’s going to be balanced with economic considerations. Those are very pressing. People are looking to be reengaged and get back to work so these are all the difficult decisions in this current environment of governance.”
Still, the minister said he was confident that the Bahamian economy will be able to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, this, the Freetown MP said, will be based on the US’ ability to rebound from the pandemic, given the fact that most of the country’s visitors are Americans.
“Our initial indication was that people want to travel but you can’t negate the fact that unemployment in the United States is now in excess of 30 million,” he told reporters yesterday.
“They are very much going through the throes of opening that economy and they are trying to navigate that process and they are a little bit more open than other jurisdictions, so we have to come to grips with that because 82 percent of our foreign visitors come from the United States.”
He added: “So, if we’re going to rebound, we’re going to have to rebound with America and so we have to sort of get comfortable with the way that they are conducting this whole or how they’re addressing this whole COVID-19 pandemic so its lots of pressing questions and lots of concerns.”
“But I’m confident that if there’s a country that’s going to rebound, it’s going to be The Bahamas because we are wonderfully positioned next to the United States. They just have to get their economy back on track.”
Asked yesterday whether his ministry could afford to keep its workers employed given the economic fall-out from COVID, the tourism minister replied: “I think that’s a general discussion across all of the ministries of the government and I’m sure that the government is looking at everything, taking into consideration the incredibly difficult times in which we face.
“I mean the minister of finance has said that revenues are down 60 or 70 percent. It’s obvious some sort of adjustments are going to be necessary to either rebuild revenue and get our tourism industry back on track as quickly as possible and to get the revenue coming back in because you can’t run this type of deficit for too long or you either have to borrow or cut.”