Tourism ‘90% Unaffected’ By Covid-19 Tightening

Tourism industry executives yesterday voiced optimism that the industry’s recovery will not be impacted by the government’s tightening of COVID restrictions, with one asserting it will be “90 percent unaffected”.

Magnus Alnebeck, general manager of Grand Bahama’s Pelican Bay resort, told Tribune Business in a messaged reply: “Honestly I don’t think it will affect tourism unless we are putting in restrictions that really impact tourists. Very few tourists leave their hotels or rental houses after 10pm, but there are obviously exceptions, so let’s say that 90 percent of tourism will be unaffected.”

He was backed by Robert Sands, the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association’s (BHTA) president, who stressed that it was more important that this nation reduce domestic COVID-19 case numbers, save lives and ease the pressure on an overwhelmed healthcare system than worry about any immediate impact on an industry that is the primary growth, job and foreign exchange earnings creator.

Speaking as it was revealed that a further 133 new COVID-19 cases were detected on Monday, Mr Sands said it was vital that The Bahamas demonstrate to potential travellers that it treats pandemic-related safety and security with the utmost priority.

“I don’t think it will have any impact,” Mr Sands said of the measures unveiled by the government on Friday. “I think the important thing is the demonstration we’re taking safety seriously. We have to get this COVID-19 situation under control and these are minimum measures to help control the spread in the islands of The Bahamas.

“I think most people will agree that the measures put in place are positive from the point of view that the country is taking this whole COVID-19 safety and security issue very seriously. Nothing that has been done should have any impact on the tourism industry at this point.

“What will have an impact on the tourism industry is if we don’t get this COVID-19 situation under control. We have to monitor these trends. The fact we’ve put in place some concrete measures, it should stem this particular spike and we hope that actually does come true. It’s not going to have an impact on us just yet. We’ve taken the corrective action.”

Bahamian hotels, in particular, are unaffected by the restaurant-related restrictions imposed on their off-property counterparts, which the latter have argued are discriminatory. While the one-hour extension of the curfew to an earlier 10pm start will restrict visitors more to their properties, the high level of vaccinations among guests will also minimise the impact of having to take a PCR test.

The latter is now a requirement for non-vaccinated persons travelling from New Providence, Grand Bahama and North and South Eleuthera, including Harbour Island, but Graeme Davis, Baha Mar’s president, last week said 76 percent of the mega resort’s guests are fully inoculated.

“The health and welfare of the country are both important, and the re-opening of the economy has to be done in tandem with health and safety of this nature,” Mr Sands said, adding that The Bahamas is “not an outlier” since multiple other countries are grappling with COVID-19 infection spikes and seeking ways to contain the impact from new variants of the virus.

The Bahamas also presently remains at ‘Level 3’ status with the US Centres for Disease Control Prevention (CDC), and has not been downgraded to a ‘Level 4’ or “very high” level of COVID-19 cases despite the latest spike. Mr Sands argued that “we’re not quite there yet” in terms of a downgrade, but reiterated that the pace of domestic vaccinations has to be The Bahamas’ single priority.

“I’ve always said to you that the quicker we can get to ‘herd immunity’ and the more we get vaccinated, the more secure the health of our country and economy will be,” the BHTA president told this newspaper. “The way we do that is by having the vaccines available. I also think that the availability of options may improve the numbers.”

Mr Sands was referring to the possibility that The Bahamas may be able to access more COVID-19 vaccination brands beyond the AstraZeneca variety that has been provided to it so far. Ed Fields, deputy chair of the Government’s vaccination committee, last week said a 57,000 dose vaccine shipment due from the COVAX facility in the next quarter will possibly contain Pfizer vaccines.

Meanwhile, Harbour Island – which has led The Bahamas’ tourism recovery, helping to drive room nights sold on Eleuthera to 85 percent of pre-COVID levels – is now among the destinations subject to tighter COVID restrictions. Besides the 10pm curfew start, non-vaccinated travellers will have to take a PCR test when leaving the island.

Benjamin Simmons, proprietor of The Other Side and Ocean View resort properties, told Tribune Business that while the impact on Harbour Island’s tourism industry was hard to gauge the restrictions were “definitely a step backwards”.

“I don’t think the news has really hit home; we’ve not had much of a response yet,” he revealed. “It will definitely be an inconvenience, and this is definitely a step backwards, but they’ve got a lot of cases. It’s definitely going to raise some eyebrows, but it’s hard to tell.

“We haven’t been as crazy as before. The August bookings were not as heavy. We’ve definitely settled down, and are going to close in the third week of this month at the back end of the season. It’s definitely a step backwards for sure, and I’m pushing our staff to get vaccinated. If you need proof in the pudding, look at the case numbers.”

Joseph Dargavage, the Association of The Bahamas’ Marinas (ABM) vice-president, and partner at Romora Bay Resort & Marina, backed the Government’s move to tighten restrictions and bring case numbers under control.

“We are blessed with a busy season already, and if there’s a need for more restrictive protocols to continue with the growth of tourism we’re absolutely fine with that,” he said. “Bottom line is we have to do what we have to do. The season has been better than expected for both resort and marina, and we are very happy to be playing our part in the return of tourism.”

By Neil Hartnell

The Tribune

Published: Tuesday, July 27, 2021