TOURISM and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
TOURISM Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar has questioned whether Bay Street can “hold on” for the return of the cruise ship market, which is the lifeline of businesses down town.
He raised the question as he predicted it will take until at least 2022 before 80 percent of tourists who contributed to 2019’s peak arrivals return.
But full-scale visitor arrivals will “take a while” the minister said.
However, he said there was pent up demand for the country as many search for tourist friendly destinations to break the lockdown fatigue and other COVID-19 restrictions.
“There is no doubt that there is pent up demand to travel,” Mr D’Aguilar said in an interview earlier this week.
“People are frustrated with lockdowns. Frustrated with the inability to travel and to mix and mingle how they’ve always done in the past. So, I think that once the vaccine rolls out and a certain amount of Americans become vaccinated, I think they will travel like crazy.”
He added: “It will be quite some time because there is no doubt that economic impact in the United States because of COVID because businesses are closed. People are being wiped out so you can’t expect that it’s going to be completely elastic where you bounce right back to 2019.
“…I mean British Airways just laid off 12,000 people. So, is it going to come back that quick? I don’t know and those people have had to borrow money and get themselves into a situation where they had to live with this so it’ll be some time before you get back to the peak of 2019,” he said.
Asked if he thought it could take about five years before there is some normalcy to tourism, the minister said: “I would say greater than three years. I can’t see that far in advance, but I think very quickly probably 80 percent of it will come back, but the last 20 percent it will take a while.
“…(80 percent of those numbers) in 2022 that’s my prediction (and at least three years for a full rebound) as people catch themselves and get confident again.”
He said The Bahamas’ location would work in its favour.
“The Bahamas, of course, is wonderfully positioned, especially for the cruise ship market because of our location. We’ll have a beautiful new cruise port in the next two years, so we’ll be in a great position to bounce back in the cruise market. We’ll be in a great position to bounce back very quickly.”
Traditionally, the minister said cruise ship customers were loyal.
“We obviously will be the main beneficiary of that. But the problem is can Bay Street hold on until then? That’s the concern.
“Cruising isn’t expected to return until probably the first quarter or second quarter of next year so by the time they rally back up then they gotta work out all their kinks they are probably going to start off by going to private islands, then they gonna come to Nassau. So, the first quarter of next year probably the later part of the first quarter before they start hitting here.
“That will make the effect of COVID on this country one year because March 19 it started so that would be a whole year. It’s very very difficult for businesses that are in rent scenarios and whether they can hold on unless they just shut down and hunker down and hold their money and tell their landlord he gotta wait, as some may be doing. So, it’s a challenge.
“It’s a real challenge. It’s a nightmare,” Mr D’Aguilar said.