Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Competent Authority will have to "give significant thought" as to whether the tourism industry can re-open on November 1 amid the current COVID-19 restrictions, a Cabinet minister said yesterday.
Dionisio D'Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, conceded to Tribune Business that visitors will not want to travel to "locked down" jurisdictions such as The Bahamas where the beaches - it main attraction - remain closed to both locals and guests.
"My response to you is that we cannot have an open tourism sector first and foremost if we don't have the beaches open," he admitted. "The number one reason why people come to this country is the beaches, and certainly - if they are not going into a hotel that offers multiple services - they will not come to a jurisdiction where they are locked down.
"Significant thought is going to have to be given to that by the Competent Authority if we're opening on November 1. It's not only putting in a testing regime, but we have to make our destination attractive to potential visitors.
"These are all things that the Competent Authority, Cabinet, are going to have to consider in conjunction with the Ministry of Health on how that is going to occur. Our ministry is focused on one thing, which is opening and getting visitors to come back here."
The "Competent Authority" is Dr Hubert Minnis and his office but, with New Providence still under weekend lockdowns and early evening week-day curfews, together with beach closures and other restrictions, it remains hard to see how the centre of The Bahamas' economy and tourism industry can properly re-open on November 1.
The measures have also yet to produce an appreciable reduction in the number of New Providence's daily COVID-19 infections, with another 34 detected yesterday to bring the total to almost 5,000 - albeit 3,997 cases have recovered nationwide.
This remains another worry for Bahamian hotels and tourism operators, and Mr D'Aguilar conceded: "Naturally the COVID-19 infection rate is a major concern, and that's why it's so important for Bahamians to take seriously the guidelines from the Ministry of Health on wearing masks, social distancing and sanitising their hands. There's no doubt we have to improve our statistics."
The minister added that the Ministry of Tourism will "probably begin to turn our marketing engine back on" once the US presidential election is over next week. "If we are going to make a play in this tourism sector we certainly have to start doing so," he said.
Mr D'Aguilar's comments came as the Ministry of Tourism unveiled a partnership with the Living With COVID Coalition (LWCC), a not-for-profit coalition within the Organisation for Responsible Governance (ORG), to ensure The Bahamas has access to as many as three million World Health Organisation (WHO) and Ministry of Health-approved COVID-19 rapid antigen tests.
“Having uninterrupted access to high-quality rapid antigen tests is a crucial component for us to begin reinvigorating our critically important tourism sector," Mr D'Aguilar added. "The new testing protocols are designed so that we can responsibly enforce public health and safety measures, while giving our visitors a better and more seamless vacation experience, ultimately allowing tourism-dependent professionals to get back to work."
“We are proud to partner with the Government of the Bahamas on this nationally significant initiative,” said Thomas Bethel, LWCC's head of operations. “COVID-19 will be here for a while and we believe that it is our responsibility as Bahamians to work together, act fast, and present a practical and responsible solution that is simple, easy, rapid and connected.
"Our diverse membership of concerned Bahamians from the private sector, civil society, academia, labour, politics and religious society are all feeling the strain from the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s up to each of us to get tested and follow the health protocols if we want to save our economy.”