Sands: Eleuthera ‘stagnant and unpredictable’
The head of the recently formed Eleuthera Chamber of Commerce says the outlook appears “stagnant and unpredictable”, insisting that more must be done to encourage local investment and provide incentives for businesses.
“We’re not seeing any growth,” said Thomas Sands, the chairman of the Eleuthera Chamber of Commerce.
“It has been a really slow period. The summer was slow and then of course Hurricane Irene hurt us. There were very few tourists and Cape Eleuthera and The Cove closing threw everyone off completely. At this point it’s a case of getting the business back up and running and getting ready for a new season.”
Sands told Guardian Business that the island is “very cautious” about the economy and any development or investment is welcomed.
In an effort to stimulate the economy, he felt an environment must be created to not only encourage investment from abroad, but also locally.
“A policy must be put in place in reference to Bahamian entrepreneurs who want to develop business,” he said.
“You can’t get incentive packages unless you’re in hotels. There is no mechanism, so I feel these areas are a little disadvantaged. Something needs to change.”
Back in September, the Chamber of Commerce in Eleuthera was approved to become a legal, incorporated entity, giving business leaders on the island more influence over the developments in the local economy.
“We had our first board meeting this week and really our goals and objectives are to put together a website and start planning some programs for the new year,” he explained.
“We are laying out what we want to achieve.”
He said the challenge is operating their own businesses while trying to make headway on getting the new organization off the ground. Funding will be an important issue, he added, as specific programs will have to be done with participation from the Chamber of Commerce in Nassau.
Sands noted they will soon begin their own funding initiatives to help cover costs as well.
Stephen Kappeler, the general manager of Cape Eleuthera, told Guardian Business that while the summer season wasn’t especially kind, the 45,000-acre property reopened its doors this month – putting more than 50 people back to work.
Cape Eleuthera has been closed since late August, when Hurricane Irene inflicted considerable damage on the business.
But there is now light at the end of the tunnel.
“All 50 some staff are back to work and I’m sold out this coming weekend and the next weekend,” he added.
In fact, he said the marina is also nearly sold out for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
He felt recent government programs, such as the “Fly Free” offers and other initiatives from the Out Island Promotional Board, were starting to pay dividends.
However, in particular, the increase in airlift from airlines such as Sun Air and Gulfstream International have provided a much-needed boost for Eleuthera businesses.
Kappeler told Guardian Business the airlift is improving and will play an integral role in the island’s recovery.
“Airlift is getting better and better all the time,” he added.
“All of these direct flights is what we have been needing for years and we’re starting to see a stimulus. This combined with deals for the rooms will get us to where we need to go.”