Chester Robards December 12, 2022
As an extremely high-priced destination, The Bahamas will have to work hard to improve its market share as pent-up demand falls away, a US recession threatens and as people, especially Americans, look once again at long-haul travel, President of the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) Robert “Sandy” Sands said Friday.
Sands, who was addressing the BHTA’s annual general meeting, said The Bahamas’ competitors are very mindful of their need to re-engage their source markets and dedicated customers and to reinvigorate their tourism products.
He said though, that The Bahamas has many hurdles to vault in the game of tourism competition in the region, with the cost of doing business in this destination atop his list of obstacles to clear
“The cost of doing business in The Bahamas is one of the most daunting obstacles that lays in our path,” said Sands.
“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.”
He said with price as the top influencer of a traveler’s decision to go to a destination, the country must urgently address the issues associated with the cost of doing business and deploy the fixes.
He outlined as looming problems, the cost of power in this country, the cost of labor and crime.
“The cost of power in this country is one of the highest bottom-line expenses we face as business owners and operators,” said Sands.
“As you know, we have met with BPL on the most recent announcement regarding 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.
“We asked Shevonn to join us so you can hear directly from the proverbial “horses 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.”
On the cost of labor, Sands added: “We have stated publicly, as key private-sector partners with the government, and employers of similar scale, that 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 sectors 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 and 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 business owners, operators and employees: the public sector and quasi-public sector agencies and their employees.”
According to Sands, one advancement that is already occurring is to have vacation home rental owners pay their fair share of taxes due to the tourism industry.
He added that other fixes include updates and amendments to the Hotels Act; changes to hotel licensing structures; the advancement of a newly proposed Condo Hotel’s (Amendment) Act 2022; and a creation of a digital immigration card.
“We are poignantly aware, as existing tourism operators, that it is imperative our infrastructure is able to aptly accommodate/service the influx of new developments throughout The Bahamas,” said Sands.
“Power, water and sewage disposal; connectivity to the internet, airports, hospitals, roadways, streetlights, the police presence, all must be part of an overarching structural reform strategy designed to aptly welcome and accommodate new investment projects and service our existing tourism economy.”
On crime, he added: “Value for money means we need our guests to feel safe, 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 are 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.