US health upgrade gives tourism ‘unabated’ boost




Tribune Business Editor


A top hotelier last night said The Bahamas’ long-awaited COVID upgrade by the US health authorities will help ensure “pent-up demand for travel to The Bahamas continues unabated”.

Robert Sands, the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association’s (BHTA) president, told Tribune Business that the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) decision to remove this nation from a ‘Level 4’ “avoid travel” advisory removed a major deterrent to travelling to this nation from its major visitor source market.

Speaking after the Ministry of Health and Wellness confirmed it had been informed that the CDC has upgraded The Bahamas to a ‘Level 3’ ranking, albeit with cases still deemed “high”, Mr Sands said he was “hopeful that in the not too distant future we will get to ‘Level 2’ or ‘Level 1’”.

Calling on Bahamians to maintain this progress by increasing vaccination rates, so as to move the country closer to so-called ‘herd immunity’ and maintain this progress, he told this newspaper: “This elevation is a very important step for the hotel and tourism industry in The Bahamas.

“This ensures that the continued positive trends in the sector, and the pent-up demand for the destination from potential travellers and high equity in The Bahamas as a tourism destination continues unabated.

“This helps the situation very greatly, and will go a long way along with the other eliminations of COVID impediments. This will augur well for future interest and demand for The Bahamas by groups.” The ‘Level 3’ rating advises international travellers to be up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccines before travelling to The Bahamas.

Despite the CDC upgrade coming at the peak of the winter tourism season, with Easter about a month away, Mr Sands said the immediate impact was likely to be minimal because hotels are already heavily booked and travel decisions already made.

“This will be more an impact on forward bookings and future booking decisions,” he added, “as individuals make decisions as to which destination they will travel to. The additional bookings at Easter will be incremental to significant bookings on the books already, but this clears the way for more positive decisions for forward bookings.

“The important thing is that there’s no longer a crutch for decisions on whether to come to The Bahamas. I’m encouraged by the fact that we’re no longer at ‘Level 4’, and I’m hopeful that in the not too distant future we get to ‘Level 2’ or ‘Level 1’.

“That’s extremely important so that there are not any obstacles to decision-making to travel to the islands of The Bahamas. It certainly removes any barriers to the demand, the pent-up demand, and that’s demand the destination has been experiencing.” Mr Sands also voiced optimism that the Government will ease the COVID mask mandate as the sector as urged.

John Rolle, the Central Bank’s governor, told a Chartered Financial Analyst of The Bahamas webinar yesterday that forward booking indicators for March 2022 “look just like” those for March 2020, which was the last month before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

He added that air arrivals had reached to around 80 percent of pre-COVID volumes by end-2021, with cruise passenger and overall arrivals standing just below that in the high 70 percent range. 

Turning to the CDC advisory, Mr Rolle added: “In the hotel sector it’s the group business that is being more adversely impacted than the family vacation. It’s the group business that yields higher rates of return for the industry.”

Dr Michael Darville, minister of health and wellness, said of the CDC upgrade: “It’s so important that Bahamians and residents fully appreciate that the country’s return to normality is closely tied to all of us continuing to be compliant with COVID safety recommendations.

“We all hold the key to our success. Free testing is available for everyone who wishes to know their COVID-19 status. And getting vaccinated remains the scientifically-proven best way of protecting ourselves and our loved ones. Let’s all do what we need to do to help keep our country moving forward.”


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