By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Exuma’s Chamber of Commerce chief says “there’s no reason” why all Family Islands other than Bimini should not have their full economic reopening included in the next wave of COVID-19 relaxations.
Pedro Rolle, in a recent interview with Tribune Business, said “it means the world to us” that Sandals has set July 1 as the target date to re-open its Emerald Bay resort given the property’s importance as the main engine of Exuma’s economy.
Acknowledging that the island’s businesses and residents will have to “survive” until that date, which appears largely aspirational given that it depends on both the opening of The Bahamas’ borders and resumption of travel from the US, Mr Rolle said it nevertheless provided time for Exuma to put the necessary health and safety protocols in place before tourism returns.
And, while the full re-opening of Exuma’s domestic economy will provide a much-needed boost, Mr Rolle said the return of domestic travel within The Bahamas is also critical given that his and other islands depend equally on “interaction with Nassau for our sustainability”.
While Bimini will next week start a two-week lockdown in a bid to control COVID-19’s spread there, the Prime Minister’s strategy for resuming economic activity includes the full re-opening of virus-free Family Islands such as Exuma in its next stage, ‘Phase 2’.
Voicing optimism that most of the Family Islands outside Bimini are ready to move to this phase imminently, Mr Rolle said: “We’re waiting on Sunday or whenever the next announcement is made. There’s no logic why we shouldn’t be approved. We can see no reason why Exuma wouldn’t be in the group.
“I think it’s not going to be like it was before. It’s going to take a while, but it would be a boost economically for sure and I’m hoping it doesn’t come with any health costs. We’ll be as careful as we can and see what happens.”
Asked about the impact if Sandals Emerald Bay does open on July 1, Mr Rolle added: “It makes all the difference in the world. That’s going to be huge, but we’re going to have to survive in the interim. There’s the rest of May and June. This gives us the opportunity to put things in place so that when Sandals comes and is ready to open up, we’ll be in a good position. It means the world to us that Sandals is opening back up.”
However, Mr Rolle said re-establishing commercial and transportation links with Nassau is just as important as the return of tourism for Exuma and other Family Islands. “We are dependent on having interaction with Nassau,” he told Tribune Business. “Nassau doing business with us, and have a lot of people travel back and forth from Nassau to the Family Islands.
“We are depending on those dollars; it’s not just tourism dollars that sustain the Family Islands. It’s the dollar flow from family in Nassau or persons in Nassau that have businesses here and, as long as that doesn’t happen, it impairs our ability to thrive. We’re very much dependent on Nassau’s viability for our survivability.”