This month’s reopening of the country’s borders to commercial tourism was touted as vital to get Bahamians back to work, and to capture much-needed revenue from the industry occupying the lion’s share of the nation’s gross domestic product.
However, a series of bad decisions and bad laws are undermining The Bahamas’ re-entry into a tourism market strained by COVID-19, injuring the destination in an industry where reputation is everything.
Tourism is a business, and among fundamental principles of successful business are respect for the customer, truth in advertising and creating a great customer experience.
Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar revealed this week that visitors who applied for the country’s Travel Health Visa were initially approved and later “disapproved”, resulting in approximately 100 deportations.
In a pre-COVID-19 environment, it would be unthinkable to deport visitors on the basis of their presenting the very same travel documentation that received government approval for entry into the country.
This decision, which D’Aguilar acknowledged as being negative for the destination, is in part, a consequence of the short-sighted and bad decision of decommissioning quarantine resources ahead of the July 1 reopening, and opting not to establish facilities for rapid COVID-19 PCR testing on arrival.
If both existed, guests and Bahamians and residents alike who have not obtained a negative COVID-19 PCR test result, could be tested and quarantined for the period it takes to receive results; testing the private sector is able to provide with same-day results.
And if these facilities existed, it could provide would-be guests with the option of visiting The Bahamas if they are unable to obtain PCR test results within the 10-day window currently mandated for the travel health visa process.
COVID-19 case numbers in the United States began to soar before July 1, due to infection surges and exponential increases in testing that has resulted in laboratory backlogs from state to state.
U.S. residents have taken to social media complaining of having to cancel vacation plans for The Bahamas, due to their inability to receive results from their testing labs in time to satisfy the 10-day timeline.
In the lead-up to July 1, the Ministry of Tourism embarked on an aggressive marketing campaign to let its core market know that the destination was once again open for business and was COVID-19-safe.
Tourism’s mass media advertising prominently featured the country’s prized and sought-after beaches; the reason most visitors travel to The Bahamas and choose it as a repeat destination.
When the competent authority, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis, abruptly announced a closure of all beaches on New Providence, Grand Bahama and their surrounding islands citing COVID-19 dangers, outrage was rife because the decision failed to meet the data or logic test.
Minnis’ emergency order to that effect was a bad law that not only kept residents away from the beaches on a popular holiday weekend for reasons never adequately explained, but turned truth in advertising on its head for tourists booked to travel, and for those already on both islands.
Three such visitors from Boston inadvertently created a social media firestorm, when a video of them jumping a locked fence to access Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island during the weekend beach closures, went viral.
On the heels of public outrage, the three women were arrested and charged with violating the emergency order, and were brought before the courts where their case was ultimately dismissed following from their defense that a police officer gave them permission to access the beach.
That laws should be obeyed by all is without dispute.
But as we have argued with respect to other bad laws under the ongoing state of emergency, which have resulted in Bahamians and residents being criminalized for seeking to meet basic needs, not all violations of law warrant prosecution.
With respect to tourism, the competent authority’s law mandating the beach closures robbed paying guests of a key customer experience, and put a lie to the destination’s marketing message that The Bahamas is a safe place to vacation from the threat of COVID-19.
It is for the authorities to determine whether damage to the destination’s reputation stemming from this recent incident was worth the course of action taken.
Just as bad laws and bad decisions have adversely impacted lives and businesses prior to July 1, they also appear to be sparking a bitter taste for this country’s bread and butter.