Exuma’s tourism up 21% as utilities ‘behind 8-ball’

DEPUTY Prime Minister Chester Cooper.

DEPUTY Prime Minister Chester Cooper.


Tribune Business Editor


The Deputy Prime Minister yesterday asserted that Exuma is “going places” with tourism 21 percent ahead of pre-COVID levels, but admitted this growth caught the public utilities “behind the 8-ball”.

Chester Cooper, addressing the Exuma Business Outlook conference in his own constituency, pledged that the Government is “putting all the pieces in place” to sustain the island’s growth when it comes to physical infrastructure.

Revealing that year-over-year tourism growth for 2023 is likely to be 40 percent nationwide, doubling the projected 20 percent, he argued that all Exuma residents need to do is “show up” given that the island has near full employment.

Calling on his constituents to “rise to the occasion”, given the need for more workers and entrepreneurs to meet the demands from what he said were $1.5bn worth of approved foreign direct investment (FDI) projects, Mr Cooper asserted that “the harvest in Exuma is plenty, the labourers not so plenty”.

Stating that Exuma has “become the envy of The Bahamas”, he added: “You have become one of the fastest growing economic centres in The Bahamas. You have become a thriving, growing community in terms of population. You have become the world over a brand unto yourselves and people are now realising, while the swimming pigs made you famous around the world, Exuma has so much more to offer.”

Urging Exuma residents that “it’s incumbent upon us to continue to prime the pump and grow Exuma in an orderly and sustainable way”, Mr Cooper reiterated that The Bahamas remains on track to hit the forecast eight million arrivals mark for the 2023 calendar year.

“While we were talking about 20 percent growth, I want to tell you it’s likely to be above 40 percent growth,” the deputy prime minister added. “Exuma, constrained only by capacity, has increased growth in tourism by 11 percent over 2022 and 21 percent over 2019, so you’re holding your own....

“We want to create a mindset with tourism that it’s not just about numbers and arrivals; it’s really the ticket for advancement and growth of our island and creation of wealth.” Mr Cooper said it was the “astronomical” increase in land values, sparked by the then-Emerald Bay resort’s opening and tourism growth, that gave him the assets to secure financing for the acquisition of now-BAF Financial.

Pointing to the multiple entrepreneurial and job opportunities created by the tourism-driven expansion of Exuma’s economy, the deputy prime minister added that all residents need to do is “show up”. He added: “We’re going places, and putting all the pieces in place.” Black Point is being targeted for a 5,000-6,000 foot runway, with Staniel Cay also set to get a new runway and fixed base operation (FBO).

Mr Cooper, though, conceded the challenges with unreliable, expensive and disruptive service provided by all utility companies including Bahamas Power & Light (BPL), Water & Sewerage Corporation, the Bahamas Telecommunications Company (BTC) and Cable Bahamas/Aliv.

“Frankly, we got caught behind the 8-ball with development of this island,” he admitted. “We must continue to work diligently to resolve these issues. I ask my friends at BPL to rise to the occasion like the Water & Sewerage Corporation have done and put electricity on the back streets.” 

Acknowledging that the Government-owned utilities are all challenged in accessing the necessary resources, the deputy prime minister said: “We are also aware that the cost of doing business and the cost of living are too high. The Government is acutely aware of light bills you are getting.”

Urging his constituents to build on Exuma’s current economic foundations, he added: “Here’s what we have got. Full employment on Exuma. If you know somebody doesn’t have a job, give them my cell phone number. It’s that serious. We have a shortage of employees on the island of Exuma. If someone doesn’t have a job, it’s not because they don’t want one. Something else must be going on.

“We have really got it all. God’s really been very good to us, and if we complain God’s going to charge us. We must fix the healthcare facilities on the island of Exuma. We need more workers, we need more entrepreneurs. We need you to rise to the occasion. We need more leaders. The harvest in Exuma is plenty, the labourers not so plenty. We have got to fix this. We need all leaders to rise to the occasion to help us drive the growth we are seeing.”

Mr Cooper also urged residents to “protect the goose that laid the golden egg” in terms of Exuma’s land and sea environment, given that it was the main draw for visitors, some 60 percent of whom said sustainable tourism was important to them. He also pledged to ensure that 30 percent of the island will remain as ‘green space’. 


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