Tourism: Concern Nicole will ‘dampen’ winter start


Tribune Business Editor


Abaco’s Chamber of Commerce president yesterday voiced fears that Nicole will “dampen” vital Thanksgiving tourism business while arguing that the storm’s emergence reinforces the need to renew the Dorian-related tax break as is.

Daphne Degregory-Miaoulis told Tribune Business the sub-tropical storm, which could pass through Grand Bahama and the northern Bahamas as a Category One hurricane, was poised to strike “at a bad time” because Abaco was “starting to feel” the increase in tourism ahead of the peak winter season’s start that is traditionally marked by Thanksgiving in late November.

Acknowledging that she will miss the storm because she is off-island, she added: “For those that are left on Abaco I’m sure everyone is feeling very anxious. The reports I am getting are that people are obviously taking this very seriously. There has been talk of possible evacuation, but I don’t know if that would be necessary at this point and where they would go at this point?

“New Providence? I don’t like being in New Providence at the best of times, especially when there is inclement weather. It’s a bit unfortunate this is happening right now for Abaco. It’s going over us to Grand Bahama, which also doesn’t need this storm. Our hearts go out to them. We’re preparing for a Category One hurricane and hoping for the best.

“This is a bad time because we’re just now starting to feel the increase in business with Thanksgiving right around the corner. I hope this is not going to dampen visitor bookings at a time when we need them most of all.” While hopeful that Nicole will not cause significant damage, and certainly nowhere near the same scale as Hurricane Dorian, Mrs Degregory-Miaoulis said any rebuilding would inevitably increase the cost of business.

She added that Nicole’s imminent arrival further reinforces the need to extend the existing Special Economic Recovery Zone (SERZ) Order beyond its December 1, 2022, expiry and preserve the present Hurricane Dorian-related VAT and duty tax breaks on building materials, furniture, fixtures and appliances in their current format.

“I am really quite disappointed in the fact that the Ministry of Finance doesn’t seem to want to communicate with the business community at any level,” she added. “Just look at what happened with the pharmaceutical industry and the grocers over price controls.

“They just seem to be making decisions and not communicating, not respecting and not getting advice from the business community and responding to industries that are being impacted. That’s very discouraging and disheartening. We’d like to think the Government is working with the people, for the people, but it is not. It is mandating rules for businesses....

“Normally, businesses are in business to make a profit. If the Government wants to make medications more affordable, make it more affordable in government facilities. You cannot mandate to a private business what profit margin they are allowed to make especially as there are rising costs for them all around. It’s a little bit discouraging to say the least.”

Kwasi Thompson, former minister of state for finance in the Minnis administration, and MP for east Grand Bahama, which was devastated by Hurricane Dorian and is likely to be among the areas most impacted by Nicole, said the latest tropical storm was more “evidence” to support the retention of the existing SERZ and the way its tax breaks function.

“We call to the Government to extend the SERZ Order,” he told Tribune Business. “There should be no reason why the Government should not extend it after two storms. This is only an added reason and evidence for the Government to extend it. There’s really no excuse after this storm for the Government not to extend it.”

Michael Halkitis, minister of economic affairs, has said at least twice that the Davis administration believes the current SERZ format is giving away too much in revenue. It feels that the tax breaks are being exploited by those who do not require them, especially wealthy foreign second homeowners, and that the SERZ is also being abused for tax evasion and other nefarious purposes by Bahamians living outside Grand Bahama and Abaco.

The minister has indicated, though, that a structure will be established where Abaco and Grand Bahama residents and businesses will still be able to apply for relief on a case-by-case basis. It is unclear, though, how this will work and whether it is likely to become mired in bureaucracy and red tape.

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