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Excursions, tours resume on Family Islands

Visitors and locals can once again take part in one-of-a-kind experiences like swimming with pigs and sharks on Family Islands now that tour operators have been permitted to resume excursions.

The Office of the Prime Minister announced yesterday, in a statement, that “tourism attractions, excursions and tours are allowed to resume operations on all Family Islands”, effective today.

“On the islands of New Providence and Grand Bahama, tourism attractions, excursions and tours may resume operations starting Monday, July 13,” the statement read.

“Facial masks and physical distancing protocols are mandatory.”

Tour operators, like most businesses, were shut down after the government announced measures to stem the spread of COVID-19 in March.

Justin Lightbourn, proprietor of Exuma Watersports, used his three months of closure to take care of the world-famous swimming pigs of Exuma, going out daily to ensure the pigs have food and water.

Lightbourn said those in the industry have already lost a huge chunk of their annual revenue because they were unable to operate during most of the busy months of February through August.

However, the opportunity to get back to work is a blessing, despite having to make changes and reduce the number of clients they’re able to accommodate at a time.

“We’re going to be doing all of our full-day, half-day tours, swimming with the pigs and all that because we have multiple boats, and a really big one, a 49-foot catamaran that holds 50 people,” Lightbourn said.

“So, what we’re going to do is split that in half. I think people would really enjoy that. It’s an ideal boat for social distancing.”

Lightbourn, however, did express concern that the restrictions in place requiring tourists to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 status, continues to serve as a deterrent for visitors and that business won’t take off again until 2021.

“We do have a demand, but because of the procedures for people traveling, we’re losing quite a few bookings,” he said.

“It’s a hassle for people to travel, which I can understand. Not everyone wants to go get a test. Some people had actually booked to come down but didn’t get their test result back in time. But frankly, I feel it’s going to be a fairly slow year, compared to what we’ve had, and next year will probably be the best year we’ve ever had. So, we’re going to do what we can now and prepare for 2021.”

The announcement also came as welcomed news to Keiran Miller, owner of Staniel Cay Adventures, who initially called it “nonsensical” to have tour boat operators remain shut on the Family Islands despite opening the borders to boaters and yachters since June 15.

“I’m ecstatic about this news, actually,” Miller said.

“My company has always been one of the smaller operators in the industry and since government put out the restrictions and protocol to follow, we prepared and have been ready to resume business. We’ve pretty much always followed social distancing measures. The masks will be fairly new and something we and our patrons will have to get used to, but it’s an adjustment we’re definitely willing to make.”

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