By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
AMID calls for more diversification of the country’s economy, Finance Minister Peter Turnquest said while officials will continue to have discussions on this, it is still “unrealistic” for the country to move away from its leading tourism industry.
The minister made the comments while speaking to reporters outside Cabinet yesterday.
He was responding to questions about whether the government had planned to focus more on other industries instead of relying so heavily on tourism.
With the country’s tourism industry at a near halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many have called for a diversification strategy to reduce The Bahamas’ reliance on foreign visitors.
In response, Mr Turnquest said: “The reality is The Bahamas has been dependent upon tourism and financial services for the most part since before independence.
“That is not going to change overnight and when we talk about what we are going to do, this is not an immediate solution. Yes, we have and we need to continue the conversation about how we diversify this economy and how we move our reliance away from these big box resorts in the main to a more diversified product, because we are not going to get away from tourism.
“It is unrealistic to think we are going to get away from it. God has given us a wonderful environment and beautiful location and we have to take advantage of it but we have to do so responsibly, environmentally as well as sustainably in terms of how we get more people involved in the industry and how we spread the risk of these kinds of pandemics affecting the industry in the way that is has to date.”
The deputy prime minister also said that while officials are doing all they can to quicken the economic recovery pace, there is no “quick solution” that will result in a full economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic right away.
However, the minister said officials are working with several industry stakeholders to increase tourism diversification, aiding in the country’s recovery from COVID-19.
“So, the secret or part of the secret is determining how do we create or cause more development to happen throughout the country so that people have more options, meaning they will come back to The Bahamas more often because they have different options and different experiences but also Bahamians can participate more directly because the cost of getting into the industry is lower, if you only have to build ten rooms or twenty rooms whatever,” he told reporters.
“That’s our challenge, how do we put in place the incentives, how do we put in place the infrastructure and how do we put in place the experiences that will have people come and take advantage and leave more of their dollars here on the islands.
“We’re working with agriculture to see how that can be a part of it. We’re working with the tourism development corporation to see how we can incentivize some creative experiences.”
He added: “Outside of that, we’re also working with the Small Business Development Centre as you know to try and create a culture of entrepreneurship that would’ve hopefully spur developments and activities that we have not taken advantage of whether that is in service industries or the production of goods and services that can be used here locally.
“We believe that that investment is going to pay dividends in the long run. Again, there is no quick solution and anybody that tells you that is selling you a dream. There is no quick solution, but discipline, patience, smarts and vision will get us there.”
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Tourism recommended that hotels throughout the country resume operations on October 15 to help jumpstart the tourism industry.
However, several major resorts have since announced they will not reopen on October 15, with one property saying it won’t reopen until late 2021.
Last week, Mr Turnquest said the Minnis administration is hopeful that the re-opening of smaller hotels will help jumpstart the tourism industry.