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Tourism 'game changer' through quarantine end

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Tourism operators last night hailed the elimination of the mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors as "a game changer" that may help the industry escape a "bleak" winter 2020 season.

Peter Maury, the Association of Bahamas Marinas (ABM) president, told Tribune Business that the sector was working to rapidly inform boat captains and yacht brokers of the upcoming end to a COVID-19 health protocol that meant "nobody wanted to book" a Bahamas vacation.

The Ministry of Tourism, in long-flagged changes, has switched the 14-day quarantine that forced visitors to remain in place - either at a hotel, on a boat or some other accommodation - for increased rapid antigen once they arrive in The Bahamas and during their stay.

Besides removing the 'Vacation in Place' quarantine beginning on November 1, which coincides with the run-up to the Thanksgiving holiday and winter tourism season, The Bahamas has sought to further incentivise travel by increasing the time given to visitors to obtain a negative COVID-19 PCR test before they travel from the present five days to seven days.

While this test, detailing the result plus name and address of the laboratory involved, will still be required along with The Bahamas Health Travel Visa, visitors will now undergo a COVID-19 rapid antigen test at specified air and sea ports of entry when they arrive in The Bahamas.

And tourists staying in The Bahamas for longer than four nights and five days will be required to take a second COVID-19 antigen test. This allows short-stay visitors to avoid a second test, with the cost of these tests - which can produce results in 20 minutes or less - included in the health visa.

"It's definitely a game changer for us," Mr Maury told this newspaper. "The holidays were looking a little bleak because nobody wanted to book due to the 14-day quarantine. A lot of Caribbean countries have already announced their openings and protocols, so this puts us with them. It gives us a chance.

"The 14 days put us out; there's nobody coming. Now they've taken the 14 days away and will test on arrival. The second antigen test is not so advantageous, but we've just got to take what we can get right now.

"We're all [marinas] empty. If they're not closed they're at a standstill, which kind of sucks. I've been keeping in touch with a lot of yacht captains and brokers, and they're asking what The Bahamas is doing. A lot of people are waiting for us to open up."

While the COVID-19 infection rate in The Bahamas, and especially on New Providence, remains problematic, Mr Maury said placing this nation on a competitive level playing field with rivals such as Barbados, Bermuda and the Dominican Republic would enable it to fully exploit its US proximity advantage.

He added that the arrival of fall, and upcoming winter, would drive many boats and yachts currently moored on the US east coast to warmer southern climates such as The Bahamas over the next few months.

The Government, though, has identified only specific airports and seaports where COVID-19 antigen tests will be available. Nassau; Freeport; Marsh Harbour; North Eleuthera; Georgetown (Exuma); Bimini (and Cat Cay); and San Andros are the approved airports.

As for seaports and marinas, the selected venues are Nassau (Atlantis, Bay Street Marina, Lyford Cay and Albany); Grand Bahama (West End – Old Bahama Bay and Freeport – Lucaya); Abaco (Marsh Harbour government dock); Eleuthera (Spanish Wells marina); Berry Islands (Chubb Cay Club); Bimini (Big Game Club and Cat Cay Club); Exuma (Georgetown government dock).

No locations were provided in the southern Bahamas. Mr Maury argued that this was "not a huge inconvenience but something we have to deal with", adding that marina operators in places such as Harbour Island would be able to get health officials and visiting boaters to where they needed to go to ensure testing was done.

He acknowledged that the Government, with its limited resources and finances, would be unable to provide COVID-19 antigen testing on arrival at every marine port of entry in The Bahamas.

Kerry Fountain, the Bahamas Out Island Promotion Board’s (BOIPB) executive director, told Tribune Business that the revised health protocols and elimination of the 14-day quarantine were "a compromise" that aimed to strike the correct balance between tourism's return and the mitigation of COVID-19 risks.

While the "96 hour" threshold for an in-stay COVID-19 test will ease the burden for short-stay vacationers, Mr Fountain acknowledged that "the number of tests is not ideal" but said this was an acceptable alternative to the quarantine which he branded "a deal breaker".

"It is a compromise but much better than the quarantine," he said. "Call it what you want, quarantine, Vacation in Place, it's all the same thing. Someone staying in a hotel is looking, as nice as that beach may be, to get out of the hotel and into the community and meet people."

Mr Fountain said 20-25 percent of Family Island visitors come for water-based activities, such as bone fishing, fly fishing, diving and snorkelling, and substituting quarantine for increased testing will allow them to do "the things they came to The Bahamas for" after November 1.

Noting that the quarantine's removal now gives the Ministry of Tourism and private sector a tool for marketing The Bahamas, he added: "Now you are free to roam but you have to be tested. I think this will be received favourably. It is a compromise but better than the next option, which is quarantine in The Bahamas."

Darrin Woods, the Bahamas Hotel, Catering and Allied Workers Union (BHCAWU) chief, said the true test of the revised health protocols will be in the market response and whether this is sufficiently strong to put Bahamians back to work.

"The true test will be whether or not people start to book," he said. "It has to get out there quickly to be in time for Thanksgiving and the season that normally comes upon us now, and we will see what that works out to be. The testing could still be a turn away, but if that starts to open the industry so persons get back to work that will be a good thing."

Comments

proudloudandfnm 3 years, 8 months ago

I gotta get out of this country for a year. This is insane. So Celebration can sail now? From corna virus laden Florida???.

That's just dumb...

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John 3 years, 8 months ago

Don’t expect an unconventional surge of tourists coming to The Bahamas any time soon. Airline travel is down by 70% under last year. Airlines are seeking to furlough over 40,000 workers and even attractions, like Disney, are laying off workers because they just can’t draw the numbers with the surging Corona numbers. And while it is a good idea to try turn the lights on in some of the major resorts, the country must not lose focus on the small, private and somewhat secluded vacation draw. To tthe family islands to the small resorts and Air Bob, the sports fishing and other fishing. The dream vacation at small resorts. At least, when properly managed can keep the tourism wheels greased until the ‘new normal’ arrives.

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Proguing 3 years, 8 months ago

I am note sure there is any service that qualifies as “rapid” in the Bahamas. And I am wondering where all the tourists at the airport or at the Nassau Harbour will be waiting for the test results. The waiting rooms at the airport are at the exit not at the entry. Hopefully the government has this all figured out.

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John 3 years, 8 months ago

This is a simple fix: with less flights and departures. Several of the departure lounges can be easily converted to receive incoming passengers, at least in New Providence and some Family Islands. And the alternatives are to test pre-boarding, and or test inflight to reduce the waiting time once the flight has landed.

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ThisIsOurs 3 years, 8 months ago

we're going to 20,000 cases

not saying we shouldn't open. Just have no faith in their ability to manage it. Just recall the Miami council general affair

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lovingbahamas 3 years, 8 months ago

Anyone is dreaming if they think this is the last thing coming from the government about re-opening. Wait 48-72 hours for the 180 degree turn. And, what good does it do to have testing only in certain airports and marinas? It's mind numbing.

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Jim 3 years, 7 months ago

Bahamians work on Bahamian time. Currently health care shortage on Bahamas. A flight of 20 arrive to a Family Island airport. After clearing customs and immigration the group is herded to an unacceptable waiting area. Paperwork completed for VISA. Money collected for the Visa, the cost of two test, including VAT tax., etc. One nurse completes paperwork and preforms test. Everyone is waiting for results. One hour later, all are negative. Three more flights arrive, 80 people enter small island that day. Some of the people contact someone positive for the virus on the islsnd and get the virus. Five days later, only 70 people plus the 20 boaters that arrived that day show up at to some unconvient location to be retested. Ten percent are now positive. Whats the rest of the story? Can't self quarantine if part of a family traveling together, if very sick, hospitals in Bahamas are full. Who is tracking down the other 10 people that didn't return for follow up test. Daily, this is exponentially growing out of control.

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happyfly 3 years, 7 months ago

I couldn't have said it better. North Eleuthera airport with 1,000 people coming in within a few days for Thanksgiving. Is going to be ridiculous. And the joke is that this program is not even going to stop the virus from entering the country. Identifying someone as positive after they have spent four days hanging out in bars and restaurants is going to achieve what ?

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lovingbahamas 3 years, 7 months ago

I am afraid our government is trying to do everything possible to open up for tourism without actually thinking this through-pretty much the same thing that has happened all along. The big resorts have spoken and they understand that the tourists are not coming in throngs until Covid dies down and they aren't trying to force an opening. They are watching their purse strings because unlike the government, they don't have unlimited funds to spend. The CDC wanted to delay cruises until February 2021. Very few are going to be jumping on airlines to come to the Bahamas and going through all this trouble for a short vacation. The government keeps trying to climb this mountain and then keeps slipping back. The new protocol is not going to be a boon for tourism. It might be a trickle. But, I hope our government now realizes that it has to do something with the healthcare in our country. It is dismal, and the fact that "Brave" Davis went to the states with Covid tells you something.

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