By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas must get its COVID-19 "dress rehearsal" right otherwise it will "sacrifice" next year's peak winter season and create a tourism "disaster", a top executive has warned.
Kerry Fountain, the Bahamas Out Island Promotion Board’s (BOIPB) executive director, told Tribune Business that the tourism industry needed to use the remainder of 2020 wisely to resolve any obstacles that emerged to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
While acknowledging that the requirement for visitors to produce a negative COVID-19 PCR result within five days of travelling to The Bahamas was "a challenge" for the tourism industry, Mr Fountain added that the sector had "no choice but to live with it".
Baha Mar's decision to delay its re-opening beyond November will likely cut the volume of airline seats into Nassau during the initial months of tourism's second re-opening attempt, potentially impacting connectivity and the ability of visitors to reach the Family Islands via the Bahamian capital.
However, Mr Fountain said it also provided opportunities for commercial airlines and "non-legacy carriers" to fill the void by offering direct service to the Family Islands from traditional gateways and hubs in south Florida, Charlotte and Atlanta.
"In terms of the five-day window, it is a challenge, let me acknowledge that," the Out Island Promotion Board chief said of the COVID-19 PCR test deadline, "but it's the best practice. Until such time as we get a vaccine we cannot be taking short cuts."
As for the decision to recommend the re-opening of all hotels and beach amenities on October 15, followed by tour, excursion and attraction providers on November 1, Mr Fountain said that - notwithstanding the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holidays - it would give the industry time to prepare and ready its product in time for the winter season peak.
"The business we get in October, November and December, that's not high season for us," he told Tribune Business. "The high season for us, the hotels don't really start to make money until February, March and April.
"The dress rehearsal we are going through, whether we open on October 15 or November 1, and excluding Thanksgiving and Christmas and the New Year holidays, the business we get for October, November and December is dress rehearsal.
"We have to get it right. If we don't get it right we sacrifice February, March and April, and that would be a disaster. With the five day test it's a challenge, but that number is not plucked out of a hat. It's data driven. It's a challenge we have to live with. It's not ideal, but these are not ideal times."
As for Baha Mar's effect on airlift, Mr Fountain added: "It is simply this. Airlines that fly into Nassau and provide seats to visitors that are connecting to Cat Island, Long Island and Eleuthera or wherever, the number of seats that would now be available coming into Nassau until such time as Baha Mar opens would be less.
"That is the impact. On the other hand, it presents an opportunity for partners like Delta, American Airlines and Silver Airways that are providing non-stop service from gates in south Florida, Charlotte and Atlanta, and opportunities for non-legacy carriers like Tropic Airways, to generate more demand.
"It means less people are travelling via Nassau and more people are travelling to the Out Islands directly from some of those gateways. To say just because Baha Mar is not opening on October 15 or November 1, I'm not going to open my hotel, I don't see that."