“To date, the BHTA has not received reports of travel cancellations,” Mr Bowe said. “However, we are monitoring social media and member communications with our industry partners.
“The safety of our visitors and residents is our top priority, and we recognize that every measure taken to protect our team members who reside here will by extension protect our guests.”
Mr Bowe confirmed that the BHTA was working closely with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Tourism in a bid to mitigate the spread of Zika in the Bahamas.
“We have informed our members to take preventative measures as outlined in the recent press release by the Ministry of Tourism,”he added.
“To our knowledge, the Bahamas continues to take the necessary precautionary measures against Zika through the application of vector control methods such as spraying and treating areas with settled water to prevent mosquito growth, educating the public, building awareness, and recommending preventative measures to extend to all areas of the country.”
Mr Bowe’s comments came after the US this week followed Canada’s lead in issuing health and travel advisories on the Bahamas, following confirmation of the Zika virus’s arrival on these shores.
The two countries are the Bahamas’ major tourism source markets, meaning that the advisories could deal a potentially major blow for the tourism industry, even though there appears to have been minimal impact to-date.
Canada last week warned pregnant women, and those planning on having children, to avoid travelling to the Bahamas.
In advice that was posted on the Canadian government’s official website, the Bahamas was added to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s list of countries to avoid as a result of the Zika virus.
The Canadian government is “recommending that Canadians practice special health precautions while travelling in affected countries. “Pregnant women and those considering becoming pregnant should avoid travel to the Bahamas,” it added.
Such travel advisories are likely to both increase in number, and intensity, especially given that Dr Perry Gomez, minister of health, confirmed that two of the four Zika cases had resulted from transmission locally.
Health warnings are a major deterrent to visitors/tourists travelling to the subject countries, hence Mr Turnquest’s fears for the Bahamian tourism industry, the most important economic sector.Florida’s tourism-reliant economy has also been impacted by an outbreak of Zika, with Miami Beach among the areas impacted. Businesses in locations identified as ‘zones’ where the virus is present, such as Wynwood in Miami, have complained about a reduction in commerce and visitor numbers as a result of health-related concerns.
K P Turnquest, the Opposition’s deputy leader, warned that the outbreak of Zika in the Bahamas could “wipe out our tourism industry altogether”, and called on the relevant Government agencies to employ an “aggressive” approach to combating and eradicating the virus.
The Government already appears to have heeded Mr Turnquest’s advice for an “aggressive” approach.
Andrew Thompson, assistant director of the Department of Environmental Health Services, said officials had already begun mosquito fogging efforts on New Providence, and were focusing on the Pinewood Gardens and Carmichael Road areas.
Zika, which has been linked microcephaly in newborn babies, can be transmitted through sex. As a result, travel advisories such as Canada’s will not only deter women from coming to the Bahamas, but their partners and entire families, too.
Dr Duane Sands, the FNM Senator, while acknowledging the potential economic impact, called for Bahamians to be “concerned without being alarmist”.
“With the potential impact of this Zika outbreak on our tourism product and economy, we should all be concerned without being alarmist,” he told Tribune Business.
“The single most important thing is effective public health and environmental campaigns by the Bahamas government.”
Published: August 26, 2016