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Don’t allow COVID apathy to ‘strangle economic rebound’

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ROBERT SANDS

• Bahamas told: ‘Take control’ after CDC downgrade

• BHTA chief says ‘can’t afford to go further backwards’

• CDC, case rise to make Gov’t ‘tentative’ over easing

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A top hotelier yesterday warned The Bahamas “must not allow apathy” to undermine the COVID fight, while admitting the surge in cases will make the Government “more tentative” over the further restriction easing sought by tourism.

Robert Sands, the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association’s (BHTA) president, told Tribune Business this nation must not permit pandemic fatigue to “strangle our economic rebound” after US federal health regulators downgraded the country to ‘Level 3’ with a “high” level of COVID-19 infections.

Speaking after The Bahamas recorded another 52 new infections on Monday, taking the number of active cases to 694, he added that while a ‘Level 3’ designation from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was “not where any tourism destination wants to be” the country was in good company with more than 100 nations in the same category.

Calling on “every employer and employee” to do their part in reversing the rising COVID infection trend, Mr Sands told this newspaper that The Bahamas “cannot afford to go backwards” any further and sink to a ‘Level 4’ given the deterrent effect on travellers considering this nation - especially those who direct which destination is chosen for group business such as conventions, meetings and events.

Graeme Davis, Baha Mar’s president, has recently renewed calls for The Bahamas to do away with measures such as the Health Travel Visa and the requirement for a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours prior to a tourist travelling to this country, but Mr Sands conceded that the combined effect of the CDC downgrade and rise in COVID cases - both locally and worldwide - will likely discourage the Government from further relaxation in the immediate future.

“A CDC ‘Level 3’ designation is certainly not where any tourism destination wants to be and, regrettably, we’re there at this point in time,” the BHTA president said. “But there is certainly an uptick in COVID cases which has resulted in over 100 destinations now, including The Bahamas, being assigned to this ‘Level 3’ designation.

“It’s vital we as a community, every employer, employee, work to reverse this trend as fast as we can and, with the numbers rising, we must not allow apathy to impair our health and wellness and strangle our economic rebound. The good news is that it falls in our hands, and if we encourage more vaccinations and ensure the protocols are observed, we can bring this spread largely under control.

“We can, and must, take control of the direction in which we are headed. We cannot afford to go backwards. It may sound cliched, but forwards and upwards is our only option in terms of this particular situation.” Mr Sands said The Bahamas needed to target a return to a ‘Level 2’ or “moderate” rating with the CDC as rapidly as possible, and then rapidly extend its ambitions to a ‘Level 1’ designation - the best possible.

Asked whether the CDC downgrade, and rising COVID infections, will make the Government reluctant to further ease testing and other remaining protocols as the tourism industry has been seeking, he replied: “I think that,yes, the Government may be a little more tentative now in advancing those decisions. It’s a ‘let’s wait and see’ type of situation. 

“I think, in the main, we must find ways to continue to operate, and we encourage and not deter those coming into the destination. At the same time, we must be safe and realistic about the things that we are doing. Asked whether The Bahamas’ COVID restrictions are competitive with rival destinations in the Caribbean and elsewhere, Mr Sands responded: “It’s a mixed bag.

“I think today, or maybe yesterday, dropped its requirement for testing coming into the destination. A number of other Caribbean destinations have done that. Hopefully we’re not too far behind.”

The BHTA chief conceded that the CDC downgrade could especially impact large New Providence resorts that have traditionally depended on the group and convention market for a significant portion of their business, but said the industry’s booking momentum - despite slowing slightly - had been largely maintained despite the arrival of the slower summer months.

“Especially for the large properties in New Providence, where a number of hotels have been experiencing a substantive rebound in group business, this can unfortunately have an impact,” Mr Sands said of the CDC action. “We hope that it’s short-lived so that we can get back on track with the booking pace we’ve been seeing in the first months of the year.

“For impetus and interest in group bookings, we need to work to get back to at least a ‘Level 2’. I think it’s slowed down slightly, but the booking pace is still encouraging when you look year-over-year or compare it to 2019. In some instances we are getting closer to that benchmark; we are not quite there yet, but are getting there.”

Notwithstanding the fresh COVID outbreak in The Bahamas and globally, Mr Sands added: “The industry is in a very favourable position and the upward momentum is good. I think The Bahamas is certainly on the radar again, and I think we’re seeing encouraging results not only in the Family Islands but certainly in Abaco, coming back and rebounding fairly quickly, and certainly in New Providence we’re seeing some encouraging occupancies at the moment.”

Acknowledging that COVID-19 remains a concern, he said: “I think we have to find a way to be smart about working with it. Impediments to travel tend to work against us in this particular environment, but we need to work with it, keep the economy open, encourage business to flow on and we’ll be OK.”

Family Island hotels yesterday said they were “disappointed” with the CDC downgrade to ‘Level 3’. Cheryl Bastian, president of the Bahamas Out Island Promotion Board, told Tribune Business: “I’m disappointed that our levels have gone to Level 3, because it certainly will be a deterrent to travellers. For bookings over the summer and going forward, we’re already seeing a downturn, which is typically when you would have more people in house about this time.”

Arguing against removing further COVID entry protocols at this time, she added: “I think we still need to be very cautious and continue the rapid antigen tests. Even though it may show a lower level of bookings in the summer, we want to be really attractive and doing that would take away from that. At about this time, they started to reduce the airlift, and that’s going to be another blockage, so it’s scary.”

Shavonne Darville, general manager of Gems at Paradise, Long Island, said: “This Level 3 designation is a bit harsh considering that we have had little to no cases on the Family Islands and minimal hospitalisations. This is just another example of the Family Islands suffering for what was done in Nassau. Everything is always so Nassau-centric. COVID-19 numbers were expected to go up from the Exuma regatta in addition to last weekend’s Junkanoo Carnival March.”

As for bookings going into the summer, Ms Darville said: “We are still benefiting from persons being COVID-wary, and wary of restrictions and wanting the ability to travel. So far this is not expected to put a damper on us for our summer bookings.

“Both with international and domestic, and even more so with international visitors, we have not had a slowdown in pace and, in fact, typically in the summer months we see not too many international travellers. However, this summer is already looking to be different.”

Comments

User1234 1 month ago

If you removed testing for travel, you would very quickly see that this is not as big a problem as you think. If people aren't being rushed to hospital with Covid as a primary cause, then you are dealing with an endemic respiratory virus. Most of the Caribbean and the rest of the world realized this months ago...

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ted4bz 1 month ago

This is a US deep state thing and they do not give a damn.

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Alan1 1 month ago

Until we remove the rapid antigen 3 day before entry test and the Health Visa we will never attract the pre-Covid 19 numbers of visitors. Many people do not have the time or will to go through all the expensive and time consuming hassles just to travel to our country for a short holiday. There are too many other resort destinations with far easier entry rules. We continue to hurt ourselves and our economy. But Government refuses to listen to all the legitimate complaints from travel professionals and visitors. We are the losers by these policies.

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ThisIsOurs 1 month ago

"vital we as a community, every employer, employee, work to reverse this trend as fast as we can and, with the numbers rising, we must not allow apathy to impair our health and wellness and strangle our economic rebound. The good news is that it falls in our hands, and if we encourage more vaccinations and ensure the protocols are observed, we can bring this spread largely under control"

Seeing as ALL of our spikes have been in direct correlation with spikes in tourism, both hotel bosses more than any other employer can probably link tourist activity to our COVID risk rating. Yet when numbers go down both immediately ask for the tourists to be more "free" than the local population. Then the numbers go up and they come out with these statements implying it's all our fault.

No it isnt. A medically sound policy would say, the people who should have the most restrictions on them are the tourists.. All of the variants to date have originated in some OTHER country. Meaning the only way a variant got here was through travel. All of the variant spikes started in March, July and October directly in line with a fresh influx of new tourist travel carriers. And all of us who went through 2020/21 understand the value of a tourist dollar, it doesnt mean we have to be lied to.

So this talk about "living with COVID" is just as messy as the "vaccine or die" messaging, they're deliberately leaving out part of the story to suit their purpose. Living with COVID means, you can't be cooped up in the house forever but it also means your risk of catching and spreading is still high, higher for those working in contact with the border, so you can't just throw caution to the wind. the danger for us isnt Omicron, its another delta-like variant. Something for which we have no immunity .

Hopefully for us the probability of that is low because Chester Cooper and these guys will sacrifice our health every time

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User1234 1 month ago

Again this statement proves how little you know. the virus is here...its endemic, like the other 4 coronaviruses - you cannot do anything about that, blaming tourists is pointless, you need to get on with your life and enjoy it...stop worrying about 'what might happen' you get one life!

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ThisIsOurs 1 month ago

This statement shows how little you read/inability to comprehend

Because I acknowledged 2 things above: 1. The importance of the tourist dollar 2. The need to "live" with COVID

my point is both have been mishandled. The importance of the tourist dollar does not mean that we completely ignore the risk of travel, which is precisely what they do. Living with COVID, i.e, its endemic does not mean everyone says oh, its here, nothing we can do. I for one remember clearly the 2nd major wave of SARS that came years after, even if you don't

3."Living" does not mean I can't "comment" or be passionate about topics like billions of other people around the world who are also living and enjoying life, in the way THEY want to, and not based on your approval of the mode of enjoyment

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ThisIsOurs 1 month ago

They shouldn't have wasted the finger strength dialing these people. Its the same surprised reaction to tourist spike, allow tourists to do what they want, COVID spike, US travel risk rating increase...how'd that happen???, we're so disappointed, right as our numbers are going up". Exactly

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