By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
An Exuma water sports operator yesterday said he did "not know if I'll ever retire" after the COVID-19 pandemic cost his family-owned business "$2m and counting".
Ray Lightbourn, principal of Exuma Water Sports, told Tribune Business he had been anticipating "a booming year" and to begin handing the business over to his son as part of the transition to the next generation.
But, after an almost eight-month closure that included July's aborted tourism re-opening, Mr Lightbourn said he now faced the prospect of "working a few more years to get back to where I was" after the global pandemic turned 2020 into a write-off.
"We're open but there's no business," he told this newspaper one week after the Government tightened COVID-19 restrictions to contain the virus' spread on the island. "We've lost, and my wife is trying to work it out but it's hard to say, about $2m over the past nine months and counting.
"We were ready for a booming year. I was supposed to retire when I reached 65 the year before. We were really busy, and I was trying to set things up where I did not have to come to work as much, and my son would gradually take it over. Then this came down and I don't know if I will ever retire. I will have to work a few more years to get the business back where it was."
Mr Lightbourn said the tight five-day window in which travellers have to obtain a negative COVID-19 PCR test before visiting The Bahamas, combined with the continued uncertainty over whether the Government will suddenly impose lockdowns and curfews, as it has done for Exuma and Eleuthera, were deterring tourism and resulting in cancellations for his business.
While acknowledging the need to detect tourists carrying COVID-19, especially as daily cases in The Bahamas' main tourism market peaked at more than 184,000 on Friday, Mr Lightbourn nevertheless described the restrictions as "just ridiculous".
He revealed that his son, who had been preparing to return to The Bahamas from New Jersey, had spent a week trying to obtain a negative COVID-19 PCR test before he was successful. While this was taken five days before the flight, Mr Lightbourn said the results were only provided on the afternoon it was due to take-off.
"That's the hurdle people have to go through to come here and they don't want to do that," he told this newspaper. "Five days, unfortunately, is not enough, but within that time anybody can catch the virus. It's difficult all around.
"No one really wants to travel when you have to check-in within five days and never know what's going to happen. Every time you look things change. People are fed up. Every time you look people have cancelled. We've had so many cancellations. People who've cancelled had booked two to three times have cancelled.
"Almost everyone who booked with us ended up cancelling. Even some who booked a couple of weeks ago, they've cancelled too. We had two family groups that cancelled. As soon as they saw the weekend lockdown they didn't want to come and be locked down. There's hardly anything open in Exuma."
Mr Lightbourn said despite zero income, Exuma Water Sports continues to incur expenses such as insurance, rent and dockage fees. He added that it cost at least $180 per boat to launch it into the water, with this rising to $1,000 every time for his largest vessel.
And the 50 cases of Kalik the company had bought in anticipation of serving beverages to guests on its boats after a July re-opening, only for tourism and the borders to shut down again within weeks, were now all past their expiration dates.