By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
The taxi union's president has blasted the tourism industry re-opening plan for “falling way short” as he revealed that 60 percent of drivers have already lost their plates due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Wesley Ferguson, the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union's (BTCU) chief, told Tribune Business that the plan unveiled by Dionisio D'Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, and his team had created a model that favoured the large hotels and tour operators while penalising small, independent stakeholders such as taxi drivers.
He argued that the mandatory 14-day quarantine imposed on all visitors would turn the resort industry into an all-inclusive sector, with tourists bused to and from these properties and the airport.
"In my humble opinion, as the president of the BTCU, according to what Mr D’aguilar said on Monday with regard to the opening of the tourism economy, he fell way, way short of what the people in the tourism industry expected. He missed the mark, miles away," Mr Ferguson said.
"You would find that people like minister D’Aguilar do not consult with the small person who is in the trenches, who are in the front line of the tourism industry. Personally, if I wanted to open up a wash house and wanted sound advice on how to operate a successful wash house business, the first person I would call is minister D’Aguilar because he is good at that. But because he operates a well-established, well-run wash-house business doesn’t mean he can run the tourism economy.”
Mr Ferguson agreed that The Bahamas has to “go ahead and open the country in a very safe and careful way”, and said he is “not against the opening dates” of October 15 for all hotels followed by November 1 for much of the rest of the sector.
He added, however: “COVID-19 is very real and it is going to be with us for much longer than we think it will, so those who govern must govern from the perspective of reaching the small man instead of the very wealthy.
"Mr D’Aguilar came up what he thought was the ‘VIP’(vacation in place) for tourists, and what minister D’Aguilar was doing was governing to suit the very wealthy. What he is doing is he is going to turn all of the hotels into all-inclusive. So the tourists are going to come here, and then busses are going to pick them up and take them to a hotel.
"Those people are going to stay in the hotel, and then the same busses carry the people back. This is exactly what Mike Maura said a couple of months ago; what he said about the cruise lines. That the people would come here and go to a pre-determined station, and then they would take them back to the cruise ship and the cruise ship leaves.”
One tourism industry source, speaking on condition of anonymity, renamed the VIP initiative "Vacation in Prison" yesterday. Mr Ferguson, meanwhile, reiterated: “The only persons that would benefit from that are the large resorts or these pre-determined destinations that they are taking the tourists to.
"People in the country who are hurting are the small persons, the little straw vendor, the people that work in the downtown area, because they depend on a sale to keep a job, taxi drivers and by extension the rest of the local economy.
“If there is no money flowing to the bottom of the food chain then only the wealthy is surviving. So when you take all of the tourists, send them over to a big company like Atlantis, make them all-inclusive then there is no reason for a taxi driver to be out there, no reason for a straw vendor to be downtown, there is no reason for the jet-ski operator to be out there," he continued.
"There is no reason for the downtown shops to be open because the tourists aren’t coming out because they have the biggest vacation in place. Vacation in place, from our experience all-inclusive hotels, they only cater to themselves.
"Minister D’Aguilar has basically fallen flat and he has not lived up to the expectation that he would be a brilliant tourism minister. He has just dropped everyone in the bag as usual. In addition, minister D’Aguilar has no idea when the cruise ships are going to come back here as these cruise lines are waiting on word from the CDC,”
Mr Ferguson, when responding to concerns about how many taxi drivers have lost their plates during the COVID-19 shutdown, said: “Basically about 60 percent of the taxi-drivers lost their plates, which was escalated by the former transport minister, Renward Wells, who then put that public notice in the newspaper and said the taxi drivers who are leasing ought to go down to the Department of Road Traffic to see the acting controller, Bradley Sands.
"We warned Mr Wells on that on more than one occasion, and that created panic among the plate owners. Even if a plate owner had some compassion for a taxi-driver, the minute the minister made that announcement it means that the minister is getting ready to take plates back. So the owner of the plates had to take them back from the driver for safe-keeping.
“We warned minister Wells on that repeatedly, and despite the moratorium being lifted for taxi plates, we said that this is a good time to give out the taxi plates to those who you determined would get taxi plates. When the economy reopens, these taxi drivers are saddled and ready to go.”