Friday, December 9th 2022
The Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association considers its role as an Advocate for Industry a key component of our mandate to serve you, our members, and the wider tourism community.
The last two years in particular has seen our organization, working collaboratively with our private and public sector partners – many of whom are in the room today, play a pivotal role as The Voice of Industry.
As liaison between private-sector tourism stakeholders and decision-makers in The Government; and quasi-governmental organizations, we have done our best to aptly represent our tourism industry on matters of critical importance.
We won’t spend much time looking in our rearview mirror, however I do want to take a moment to pause and express our gratitude and pay respect to the vast cadre of professionals from virtually every imaginable segment of business, from every sector of Government, who galvanized in response to successive epic events.
Our readiness to work together, to listen and learn from our missteps (thankfully far and few between), to work proactively, collaboratively, and strategically has been Key to our Success.
The GOOD news is – our hard work has paid off, look around you, look where we are. Our being here today, in person, is a testament to the tenacity of our Tourism Industry, and even more so a testament to the commitment, resolve, the sacrifice that we have made, to bring The Bahamas back from its precarious state.
The GOOD NEWS IS –
Many of us, albeit not all, have been able to welcome back a full complement of team members.
Many of us, not all, are now; approaching, even surpassing, pre-covid occupancy levels, we have held firm our ADR’s, we are benefiting from the power of pent of demand.
We are seeing our stopover visitors stay longer, spend more. We are seeing a robust resurgence of cruise passengers.
We are seeing a surge of FDI and a significant level of new investments and developments in the pipeline.
We are seeing a resurgence of Group Business.
Our Marina industry, which was one of the first sectors of our tourism economy to recover – continues to excel.
We continue to boast and benefit from our abundance of sun sea and sand, the isolation of our beautiful remote family island – All befitting ingredients to service pent-up demand driven by the health crisis, losses, and lockdowns.
However, with the pandemic behind us, we must recognize that there will be a balancing; as transatlantic travel becomes more palatable, as pent-up demand wanes, as a US recession looms. We must be mindful of our need to remain competitive, as our competitors come back online in droves; who, like us; have empty coffers that need to be re-filled, who have bills amassing, shareholders to satisfy, debts to pay; team members to retain and guests to serve.
So yes, we ALL deserve a hearty pat on the back – What we have accomplished together, working as partners is as epic as the challenges we have faced, however we cannot relax there is more work to be done; the future looks bright, but we will face some headwinds on this next leg of our journey:
So, let’s remember what got us this far:
Collaboration. Communication. Proactive, Strategic Planning, Private Public Sector Partnership.
Let’s look what some of those headwinds look like:
Cost of Doing Business in The Bahamas:
The Cost of Doing Business in The Bahamas is one of the most daunting obstacles that lay in our path. It has a direct, immediate impact on the cost of goods and services in our country and the tourism industry is not immune to this reality.
We are already a high-priced destination. It is expensive to get here, it is expensive to stay here, it is expensive to eat, drink and enjoy all The Bahamas has to offer. It is our reality and one that likely will not change.
While pricing has not stymied our recovery – We cannot think for a moment, that people will pay any price to enjoy The Bahamas.
Price is the predominant influencer for the majority of our market, when making travel decisions.
Therefore, while we recognize there are forces outside of our control and while we have made progress, we must advance, with heighted urgency; the deployment of initiatives designed to address long-standing issues that add to our cost of doing business, and adversely impact our price competitiveness
The Cost of Power in The Bahamas:
The (rising) cost of power in this country is one of the highest bottom-line expenses we face as business owners and operators.
As you know, we have met with BPL regarding the most recent announcement re the significant increase in the cost of the fuel surcharge; and that is why you will see BPL CEO Shevonn Cambridge and team member Nadeen Eugene here in the room with us.
Thank you for coming. We asked Shavonn to join us so you can hear directly from the proverbial “horse’s mouth” BPL’s short, mid, and long-term plans to stabilize the cost of electricity, and to address long-standing grievous issues, frequent power outages, spikes, and brown outs, particularly in our family islands.
In addition, The BHTA has asked for a seat at The Table with BPL and other private and public sector representatives, to discuss how we can collaborate to accelerate efforts to transition to alternate, environmentally friendly energy solutions.
We have asked to be part of the conversation and imminent solution, by collectively identifying and addressing impediments; whether it is access to capital, awareness and understanding of the options for transitioning; we are here to work together to empower and enable tourism stakeholders to deploy alternative energy options.
Finally, we have elucidated a number of specific ASKS, the answers are forthcoming. We will continue to update and communicate with you, our members, we know how important this issue is for you.
Cost of Labour:
Another important contributor to our cost of doing business is The Cost of Labour.
We have stated publicly: “as key private-sector partners with the Government, and employers of similar scale, we are aligned with the Government’s perspective that an increase to minimum wage is due; the topic has been on the table for collective discussion between the public and private sector for some time”
However, this essential component of our business model cannot be viewed in isolation – and it is imperative that this mutual topic of interest be discussed candidly, collectively with all participants’ interests in mind.
We commit to continuing our efforts to assist in the design and deployment of a holistic strategy which will achieve all that we collectively seek to accomplish; a thriving, resilient, sustainable, diverse economy that befittingly supports a population comprised of a diverse range of micro, small, medium, and large sized business owners, operators, and employees: the public sector and quasi-public sector agencies and their employees.
Expanding the Financial Net:
We fully support the urgent advancement of efforts to ensure tourism participants that profit from operating in our countries tourism sector, pay their fair share, alongside and aligned with business owners and operators such as those of you in the room today, who contribute to the public purse so The Government can spend funds to maintain, improve elements that are essential to our collective ability to operate a business in The Bahamas.
We recognize, while there have been laws put in place to capture some of these sectors, (not all) enforcement is key to ensuring those that fall outside of the financial fold comply as we do. We applaud the government’s efforts to realize widespread compliance of the new, previously untapped sectors of industry.
The BHTA has offered our input, expertise and experience to assist in the harnessing of these untapped markets, we will continue to do so, and we thank the Government, The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, their Hotel Licensing Department for being afforded the opportunity to contribute to this common aim.
Ease of Doing Business:
In addition to the Cost of Doing Business we need to ensure operators of businesses in The Bahamas are able to do so in an efficient, effective manner.
More Red Carpet Less Red Tape
Therefore, we are pleased to be invited to work with the respective government ministries and their representatives, to provide input and insight on important aspects that affect our Ease of Doing Business in the Tourism Industry.
BHTA and BOIPB will be working together with representatives from the BHTA Executive
Committee to come up with recommendations to update/amend The Hotels Act which has
been in existence since 1970. A core committee will make recommendations regarding the
licensing of hotels, financial provisions, and other key aspects of the act.
We are pleased to have been asked to serve in this capacity and will continue to reach out to
you for your input and keep you updated re our progress in this regard.
Newly Proposed Condo Act Hotel’s (Amendment) Act 2022:
The BHTA, and other private sector tourism industry stakeholders, have been in communication with Government Representatives regarding matters related to the newly proposed “Condo Tax”. We have been pleased to provide input and recommendations which have resulted in certain favorable conclusions I.e.
We recognize with the emergence of any new Law, there is more work to be done, however we are pleased to have been part of the conversation and we thank the government for having us at the table for discussions.
Digital Immigration Card:
Another Important Topic is The Digital Immigration Card, we were pleased to have been asked for our input; we were pleased to convey insight from private sector industry representatives.
Thank you for allowing us to be part of these important conversations.
Another Important Component of our Sustained Formula for Success is providing our guests with VALUE for Money
Being a high-priced destination means it is “all-the-more-reason” that we deliver an experience that EXCEEDS the guest’s expectation!
We will continue to offer industry insight in order to streamline; improve and update the
Hotel Licensing Process. Hotel Regulations (section 27) falls within the Hotels Act; and
therefore, this important aspect of the legislation falls within the committee’s purview of
review and recommendations.
We, public AND private sector partners SHARE that responsibility – Government, Quasi Government organizations AND Private Sector to Deliver the Value for Money Proposition,
On the public sector side:
The guest experience cannot be met with a disruption in basic services that are absolutely essential to their enjoyment of the tourism destination that we work so hard to promote.
Our Guest cannot come to The Bahamas, paying a high price to get and be here, and then experience a power outage, or have no water for a shower. It is inconceivable and unfathomably damaging to the guest experience and our reputation as a premier (High Cost) Destination.
We commend our government for the work they have done to encourage foreign investment in our country, the list of projects queued in “our pipeline” is admirable and exciting.
However, we are poignantly aware, as existing tourism operators, that is imperative our infrastructure can aptly accommodate/service the influx of new developments throughout The Bahamas.
Power, Water & Sewage Disposal, Connectivity to the internet, Airports, Hospitals, Roadways, Streetlights, Police Presence, all must be part of an overarching structural reform strategy designed to aptly welcome and accommodate new investment projects and to service our existing tourism economy.
On Public AND Private Sector:
Value for Money means We need our guests to feel safe and secure and welcome in our destination, we want them to be able to interact with our people, explore our islands; and enjoy our beautiful environment with enthusiasm not trepidation, without feeling hassled or unsafe.
I have been vocal in our message that Safety and Security is vital for our tourism industry we must work with our public sector partners such as the Police Force, our Defense Force and other like agencies in our fight against crime.
WE private citizens business owners and operators can and must be part of the fight.
We encourage our tourism stakeholders to become active participants in efforts to prevent or address criminal activity through collaboration, information sharing as well as our own private sector crime prevention measures, CCTV cameras, Security and other measures deployed to deter and address criminal activity on any scale.
As I have stated before – we have a saying in Tourism: “Tourism is everybody’s business” As Is Crime.
We all know this is INTEGRAL to our success. It costs us nothing yet reaps inestimable rewards.
We must provide the highest level of customer service and genuine hospitality to our guests and amongst ourselves; Authentic, genuine, warm, and engaging hospitality is key to our success.
The beauty of The Bahamas plays an important role in our tourism offering however it is and has always been the people of our country that are our greatest asset, and it is the people of The Bahamas that will make our visitors’ experience unforgettable.
Along that vein; we will be accelerating our efforts to work alongside our educational partners in the public and private sector to ensure we are best-preparing our students to enter our dynamic and diverse workforce in a manner which affords them (and industry) the best possible chance for success as entrepreneurs, operators, employers and employees.
Environment: It goes without saying the important role our environment plays in our existence. Addressing Climate Change, reducing Carbon Emissions, protecting shorelines and replenishing natural habitat are all part of the solution, we commit to support and assist these worthy initiatives.
We must also focus on the low hanging fruit – for example Cleanliness – Littering – this is a blight that affects us ALL.
Fellow tourism stakeholders, we recognize the importance of maintaining our respective properties, how can we galvanize to support initiatives that may fall beyond our property boundaries?
How can we assist in training and awareness regarding Littering – for our staff, our schools.
I know of a few people in this room who hold this issue close to their heart. We look forward to working with you and people like you to make a difference, we need passionate people like you to keep the torch lit.
Also, we are working with The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and respective private sector stakeholder to develop and deploy a number of environmentally conscious projects including initiatives aimed at reducing, hopefully eliminating Carbon emissions within our destination.
We will aim to do more, and we will ask you to join us in our efforts.
Local Sourcing, Supporting our Orange Economy, and Blue Economy. We applaud efforts to highlight and celebrate those aspects of the Bahamas that make us unique. Our people, the culture, heritage, art, dance, music, food, drink, customs as well as the flora and fauna.
Local sourcing is a vital component of the diversification of our economy, our tourism industries’ purchasing power is vast, and while the reality is there are some hurdles to overcome if we are ever going to be able to leverage local sourcing to its potential, we must continue to partner to move the needle in the right direction, we have made some progress; there is more to be done.
Product, pricing, consistency and quality of goods and services are all key to a successful overarching strategy to fully support the growth and development of our Orange and Blue Economies
The BHTA has been a long-term supporter of “local sourcing/Import substitution” initiatives.
We look forward to continuing this path, partnering with The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism; our Promotion Boards, Corporate supporters and other private sector stakeholders to support and deploy initiatives, events in support of these vastly important segments of our economy.
Fellow hoteliers, tourism stakeholders, Public and Private sector Partners, for the last several minutes you have listened to me touch upon where we were, how far we have come; how it is we have come to be here: “Our Formula for Success”, I have talked about the hills and headwinds we are facing. I have expressed our gratitude for what we have achieved; as tourism participants inextricably tethered together.
On behalf of The Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association, I reiterate our commitment to serve you, our members, our tourism community, and our country; we will stay the course, we will continue to work assiduously, passionately, persistently with and for you.
We will continue to reach out to you; to harness the immense power of your experience, industry insight and expertise. We welcome and appreciate your active participation, the volunteering of your time despite busy schedules.
We are going to ask for more!
We will continue to avail ourselves to the Powers That Be – to be the conduit of communication for the Tourism Industry.
We have and will continue to make a difference – working together we can and will make The Bahamas The Best it Can Be.
Afterall it is Better in The Bahamas.
I thank you for your time and attention.