By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM, Investment and Aviation Minister Chester Cooper has pledged to enhance and upgrade infrastructure on Junkanoo Beach.
The deputy prime minister said his ministry is committed to maximising the site’s full potential in a bid to improve the nation’s tourism product.
Mr Cooper’s comments to reporters came after he, along with other officials, conducted a tour of the area on Friday. While there he also promised to address concerns of Junkanoo beach vendors.
Describing the site as one of the “busiest” beaches in the country, Mr Cooper said there was no doubt Junkanoo beach had great economic potential given its strategic location and current attractions.
“This is the type of marketplace that we want to encourage across the country,” Mr Cooper said on Friday. "One of my biggest focuses in my role as minister responsible for tourism is to encourage linkages with tourism and this is a great example of what can happen.
“Of course, this is the busiest beach in the country and certainly, one of them given the millions of tourists that come by cruise ship in the immediate vicinity and, of course, the hotels and surrounding area. This is a great location. It’s well positioned for tourism enterprises.
“Tourists can come and experience the local food and the typical environment that we would find in a family island anywhere across the country. Talk with our local population. The vendors and our other local guests and really one of the things that we emphasise in the Ministry of Tourism is not just the sun sand and sea, which we magnificently display here but also the warmth of our people and, therefore, this marketplace is so important for that experience as well.”
Among those who participated in Friday’s walkabout included McKell Bonaby, Executive Chairman of The Bahamas Parks and Beaches Authority, and Dr Kenneth Romer, the Ministry of Tourism & Aviation's executive director of product quality and support, and others.
According to the minister, at the root of concerns expressed by vendors was the lack of lighting on the beach and insufficient security.
However, he said his ministry was seeking to address those issues.
"There are some concerns with respect to lighting (and) general security”, Mr Cooper told reporters Friday. “We’ll be having some discussions with police to increase their patrol in the area, especially at night.”
“We looked at the facilities. They’re clean and commendable and clearly, there’s some improvements that can happen in relation to the restrooms, but the vicinity is generally clean. There can be a little bit more standardisation in terms of some of the physical buildings, etc, and no doubt there can always be room for improvement, but we’re coming out of a very difficult time.
“COVID has taken a toll and business is here and no doubt the association as well, so over time we’re going to cause there to be more improvements in the physical plant here at Junkanoo Beach.”
Mr Cooper also said he was concerned about the shortage of lifeguards at the local beach, adding that work was now underway to launch a training programme to boost manpower in that regard.
“One of the things that I’m personally concerned about, and the Ministry of Tourism as well, is the need to have more beach wardens and more lifeguards on duty. We did see some here today, but there is a shortage of lifeguards across the country,” the Exuma and Ragged Island MP said Friday.
“The Ministry of Tourism is taking a lead in causing there to be an active training programme. You will hear more about this shortly. We’ll be working along with Mr Bonaby from Beaches and Parks. We know that when we visit the private islands of cruise ships and when we talk with investors, one of the things they complain about is that they can’t find lifeguards in the country.”
“So, we’re going to be spearheading a training initiative beginning hopefully with at least 100 new recruits in our lifeguard programme to ensure that when we talk with investors, whether it’s the cruise line or whether it’s the hotel, we no longer need to grant work permits from persons from around the world to come to watch our beaches and make sure that our guests are safe so we’re going to take this matter into our own hands.
“This is an opportunity for young people across the country and, therefore, this is something that Junkanoo Beach will benefit from but all of the beaches and parks under the mission and mandate of Mr Bonaby,” the deputy prime minister added.
Speaking after Friday’s tour, President of the Junkanoo Beach Association, Byron Austin told reporters he was grateful for Mr Cooper’s visit and also expressed confidence that the government will keep their commitments to vendors.