• 'Mixed message' fear for November 1 re-open
• COVID lockdown/curfew will 'sow visitor doubt'
• Hotelier urges: 'Develop strategy and stick to it'
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A major hotelier yesterday voiced concern over the "mixed message" sent by the latest COVID-19 restrictions for November 1's re-opening, arguing: "You can't turn tourism on and off like a tap."
Magnus Alnebeck, the Grand Bahama-based Pelican Bay resort's general manager, told Tribune Business the weekend lockdown and extended curfew imposed on New Providence and Abaco by the Prime Minister were likely "to sow a little bit of doubt and confusion" in the minds of potential visitors mulling whether to travel to this nation once the 14-day quarantine is eliminated.
Arguing that the situation again highlights the need for The Bahamas to develop a clear strategy for its tourism re-opening "and stick to it", Mr Alnebeck said the tighter restrictions unveiled by Dr Minnis were likely to cause some discomfort in the global travel marketplace.
"Turn it around. Imagine you as a Bahamian are considering going to Fort Lauderdale on November 1, and tomorrow you see Florida has a 24-hour curfew this coming weekend two weeks before you are going to go there," the Pelican Bay chief explained. "Would you go ahead with your plans? You would say: Let's wait and see."
Suggesting that the measures unveiled yesterday "definitely do no good" for The Bahamas' ambitions to fully re-open its borders to international travellers on November 1 with the elimination of the mandatory 14-day quarantine, Mr Alnebeck said the strength of any rebound will depend heavily on how the tourism market react.
"The question of whether this hampers it or not, it's too early to tell," he added. "But as a consumer it must sow a little bit of confusion and doubt. To think we can turn this on and off like a tap, it doesn't work like that.
"People are very reluctant to travel, and the mixed messages about the situation doesn't make them any more comfortable. Let's try and come up with a plan we can stick with, and let's stick to it. Changing things too rapidly has been a problem for us over the last eight months. Open/close, change this, change that. I think we need to find out whatever our plan is and stick with it."
Giving specific example of where The Bahamas' messaging has been less than consistent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Alnebeck added: "We've had a problem in Grand Bahama where for weeks we are open and people who come to the island and want to go to the beach cannot do so after 12pm because they are told the beach is closed.
"Some of the things we are doing, like keeping the beaches closed, makes no sense. We all know what happened in July when we opened up for tourists but closed the beaches. The concern is how difficult it will be to send out the message that in three weeks we will be opening up now that Nassau is under weekend lockdown and curfew. Have we shown in the past that we stick to what we actually say?"
The Pelican Bay chief added that his resort had suffered cancellations as a result of the Government and Ministry of Tourism promoting the Bahamian hotel industry's re-opening on October 15, as this created the impression the Grand Bahama resort, tool, was closed even though it had remained open throughout the pandemic.
Pointing out that persons planning to come to The Bahamas in early November 2020 will be making their plans and bookings now, just as the Prime Minister announced new restrictions for New Providence and Abaco, Mr Alnebeck also questioned how comfortable travellers to the Family Islands will be transiting through Nassau.
Dr Minnis has given himself just three weeks to bring New Providence's COVID-19 surge under control as he yesterday reaffirmed that the November 1 deadline for re-opening The Bahamas' borders to international tourism, and the elimination of the 14-day mandatory quarantine, remains intact despite the new measures.
With timing rapidly running out, and new infections on New Providence running at between 50 to 100 per day or 500 per week, some observers believe with hindsight that the Prime Minister may have been correct to try an August lockdown.
However, its botched handling, which have residents too little time to prepare, resulted in the Government rapidly reversing course and re-opening the economy. After suggesting that no more lockdowns would be employed, and that COVID-19's so-called second surge was coming to an end, Dr Minnis has now performed yet another u-turn with the imposition of more restrictive measures.
As reported by Tribune Business on Tuesday, the Prime Minister yesterday opted for weekend lockdowns and an extended, earlier curfew on weekdays that begins at 7pm rather than the current 10pm on New Providence and Abaco with effect from this Friday.
While sea and airports will be allowed to operate normally, and travel continue uninterrupted with no disruption to flights, Dr Minnis said: "No food stores, pharmacies, gas stations, construction sites or laundromats will be permitted to operate during the full 24- hour weekend curfews.... Gas stations are not permitted to provide in-store services.
Calling on all Bahamians who can work remotely from home to do so, he added: "We have many reports of individuals in offices not wearing masks and not maintaining physical distancing, proper sanitisation and other health measures. Such practices are helping to spread the virus.
"I again make a strong appeal to those businesses that are not complying with health and safety guidelines to do so immediately..... As a part of our enforcement efforts, all fines for breaching health protocols, except for the mask violations, will be doubled.
"To encourage compliance with public health protection measures, there will be an amendment to the Emergency Powers Order that causes businesses to be closed for business on their second violation of the Orders. They will be closed for 14 days.
"If a business or construction site has an infection rate of ten percent of the full staff complement, the business or construction site will be closed, and all staff members will be quarantined for the prescribed incubation period of 14 days."