DOSES of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and UK-based drugmaker AstraZeneca are logged by a technical officer, as they arrive at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, England, on Saturday. The UK has 530,000 doses available for rollout from today. Photo: Gareth Fuller/Pool via AP
By MALCOLM STRACHAN
IF I had only a dime for how many times I’ve heard 2020 called “the worst year ever” or “a year to forget”. Indeed, 2020 inflicted what seemed to be an unending loop of trauma on people all over the world. It wasn’t until the end of the year that we were all ready to remove our hands from our eyes to see the possibility of change in the near future as a result of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Yes, friends, we could have some hope that we can truly put 2020 and all the pain and heartache behind us.
As confidence has grown that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines hold the key to unlocking a potentially non-COVID-19 future, whether you love the idea of taking the vaccine or not, getting back to life as we knew it before will always be an attractive proposition.
Is there really an alternative? Perhaps our resorts can continue to remain open at low occupancy until the money dries up and then they’ll again become shuttered as a result of tourists opting for domestic vacations? And what option is there for families already pushed beyond the brink economically as poverty sweeps over our communities? Certainly, we can agree none of us want these scenarios.
The fact is, our economy, as currently constructed, does not allow for us to turn up our noses at any weapon being used to defeat COVID-19.
With over half of our population unemployed, many of whom work in the tourism industry as hair braiders, straw market vendors, taxi drivers, tour operators and as staff in restaurants downtown, we ought to welcome anything that signals a return to pre-pandemic life.
COVID- 19 has taken the lives of nearly two million people around the world, and although The Bahamas only accounts for a tiny fraction of that number with 171 of our own succumbing to the virus, our economy remains very much on life support.
And as a new year dawns, we can let out a sigh of relief that the worst may be behind us. This good news is being trumpeted from every nook and cranny, as hoteliers and travel experts around the world point to this year’s summer solstice as “the longest and brightest [day] of 2021”, as it marks a period when most tourists will likely feel more confident about international travel.
The division president of international accident insurance company Chubb, John Thompson, when speaking to USA Today, said travel will obviously have a different look going forward, but as a result of a “deeply human desire to connect, to socialise and collaborate, to maintain and strengthen family bonds”, that are still firmly rooted in us, he believes people will regain their confidence.
This notion is supported by consumer research firm, Destination Analysts, which has been surveying Americans every week since March 15, 2020 and coming up with some very encouraging findings. Their data reveals that 54 percent of US travellers say they would feel comfortable with international travel as a result of the COVID-19 vaccines by this summer, which would afford us an incredible opportunity to take advantage of what may be an uncharacteristically higher arrival low season – fingers crossed.
And while the cruise operations are expected to rebound in 2021, the industry has received a black eye as a result of the horror last year taking on the imagery of floating petri dishes being etched in the minds of would-be cruisers. In fact, a survey performed by SpringOwl Asset Management, an investment group based in New York, determined that 80 percent of its respondents who have never been on a cruise, would avoid getting on a ship.
Thankfully, as avid cruisers are typically loyalists, when operations resume to The Bahamas, we should still be able to depend on this very integral revenue stream – “when” being the operative word. Although operators have been given the green light to set sail on March 1, much really depends on developments of the new UK variant of the virus. Additionally, from a global standpoint, we are watching to see the implications of people’s activity during the holiday season, and finally, how many people are vaccinated between now and then.
However, as we’ve been living with COVID-19 for nearly a year now, companies in the cruise industry - after a year of suffering record financial losses totalling $32bn - have likely gone to great lengths to innovate and save their businesses. How much the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention buy into that will be a separate matter. But with promising results coming on the vaccination front, they will survive.
While we have certainly had our challenges with the cruise industry, as noted, we must prioritise the health of our economy and getting Bahamians back to work which is a collective responsibility. Certainly neither the government, nor the citizenry can take its hands off the wheel at such a crucial point in our economic recovery.
With an election coming up next year, the Minnis administration is surely looking to accumulate some wins and take advantage of what may become a general sense of relief in the country.
We’re certainly not there yet, nevertheless, we’re much closer than we have ever been. Let’s just continue to do our part.