NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Tourism and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar today highlighted the grim reality facing the country’s tourism sector due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Underscoring widespread travel restrictions imposed by the country’s key source markets, D’Aguilar told Parliament: “Our tourism industry will be strained to its very core.”
With a record 7.2 million visitors in 2019, Mr D’Aguilar said this nation’s tourism sector showed no signs of slowing down back in January when overall arrivals had increased by 7.9 percent.
“We were poised for another year of growth, another year of success, another year of plenty,” said D’Aguilar.
The tourism minister noted there has been a complete reversal of this trend as, “forward booking data reveals absolutely no bookings for the foreseeable future.”
“Life as we know it will be fundamentally uprooted for the next 30-60 days,” he continued.
“To convince ourselves otherwise would be of profound detriment to the collective struggle we as Bahamians have begun to mount and will continue to mount against COVID-19 in the coming months.”
D’Aguilar said: “We must be candid, forthright and brutally honest with ourselves about what the next one to two months will look like. Hotels will be vacant, ports will be deserted, streets will be empty.
“The lifeblood of our country will be devoid of the many millions of foreign visitors that are so economically impactful in our everyday life. We are facing an economic calamity that will almost certainly exceed that of Hurricane Dorian.”
D’Aguilar said the extent of the impact the COVID-19 crisis will have on the country’s tourism industry and the economy will be determined by two key factors.
One factor he noted is the rate of the domestic outbreak persons can control.
“We are directly accountable for the spread of the virus in our community and it is incumbent upon each and every Bahamian to follow the exhaustive protocols issued by the Ministry of Health.”
D’Aguilar noted that just a week ago The Bahamas was featured in the most recent travel market report as the safest country to travel to amid the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
However, after the US rolled-out its new travel restrictions, there was a mass exodus of foreign visitors who wanted to return home to avoid being locked out by any sudden change in travel rules to The Bahamas.
“Our tourism industry will be strained to its very core,” he warned.
Still, D’Aguilar said: “The Ministry of Tourism will not sit idly by.
“This ministry is acutely aware of what it takes to respond in the face of disaster and we will be ready to let the world know that The Bahamas is open for business once again when this pandemic is behind us.”
He expressed optimism that The Bahamas’s location and product diversity will serve it well once the cruise and airline industry restarts.
D’Aguilar said that he remains optimistic over the industry’s long-term prospects as the sector has proven extremely resilient.