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‘There will be no tourists’

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar yesterday warned Bahamians to prepare for an economic calamity that will exceed that of Hurricane Dorian, as the global tourism industry shuts down.

As he addressed the House of Assembly in what he said was one of the most painful speeches he’ll ever make, D’Aguilar revealed that there are no bookings for the foreseeable future.

“The simple, yet, inconceivable reality we all need to grasp is that there will be no tourists,” he said.

D’Aguilar added, “It is fundamental that we as Bahamians understand both the short and long-term impacts COVID-19 will have on our tourism industry.

“Life as we know it will be fundamentally uprooted for the next 30, 60, 90 days.

“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 noted that The Bahamas’ reliance on the tourism industry makes it particularly vulnerable.

“International travel restrictions, airline and event cancelations, and the perceived risks of global travel, even as the world comes to grips with COVID-19, will significantly slow The Bahamas’ economic turnaround,” he said.

He added, “[H]otels 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 lives. We are facing an economic calamity that will almost certainly exceed that of Hurricane Dorian, the most powerful hurricane to ever strike The Bahamas.”

Countries across the globe have been shutting down their borders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Quite simply,” D’Aguilar said, “the tourism industry worldwide faces a significant, some would even say, catastrophic, collapse in the near term. One only need look at our forward booking data, which reveals absolutely no bookings in the foreseeable future as potential vacationers retreat into their homes worrying about the uncertainty of their own short term economic prospects and pushing any thought of any type of vacation out of their realistic realm of possibility.”

The symptoms of the disease that has killed at least 8,700 people include fever, cough, shortness of breath and in severe cases pneumonia. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19), originated in Wuhan, China, late last year.

Since being identified, the virus has spread to all continents except Antarctica.

As of yesterday, there were nearly 215,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in at least 144 countries, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic last week. Shortly after, it announced that the epicenter of the pandemic is now Europe.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced earlier this week that foreigners who have been in the United Kingdom or Europe in the past 20 days will not be allowed entry into The Bahamas. Bahamians who have recently visited the region will face quarantine upon entering The Bahamas.

D’Aguilar said the impact of the virus on The Bahamas’ tourism industry is further exacerbated by the economic suffering of airlines, which have already lost $113 billion as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A prolonged crisis in our crucial international markets and the corresponding collapse of our key airline partners augur extremely challenging times ahead,” he said.

“The Bahamas is particularly sensitive to the fate of the airline industry, as some 85 percent of all stopover business is generated from travelers within U.S. markets traveling on either American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, United, Silver and Southwest.

“It, therefore, prompts great concern when airline stocks continue to plummet, and American and Delta — two airlines, which have captured the lion’s share of the market in The Bahamas — have already announced deep cuts amid precipitous declines in demand and government-imposed restrictions.”

He noted Canadian airlines are taking similar steps.

“Each of its three major airlines — Air Canada, Sunwing and WestJet — have suspended or greatly reduced flights to the Caribbean,” D’Aguilar said.

Direct flights from Europe will stop today as a result of the government’s ban on travel from Europe.

“Both British Airways into Nassau from the UK and Air Caribe into San Salvador from Paris will suspend operations,” D’Aguilar said.

“British Airways, though more financially secure than its U.S.-based counterparts, plans to cut capacity by 75 percent in April and May to remain solvent during the outbreak.

“The situation may very well prove catastrophic for long-haul air travel. Without financial support from governments and co-ordinated industry action on bailouts, most European airlines and charters could experience bankruptcy by the end of May.”

The minister also noted that the cruise ship industry is almost non-existent after major cruise lines announced the suspension of trips over the next month.

“Every month the cruise ships remain in port completely shut down, 450,000 foreign visitors are not coming to The Bahamas, creating the economic impact that supports the lives of many ordinary Bahamians,” he said.

However, D’Aguilar said the impact of the pandemic could be reduced if the spread of the virus is properly mitigated in The Bahamas.

“[C]ritically important to this recovery effort will be the country’s response to limiting the outbreak,” he said.

He added, “In these extraordinary times, we, alongside each and every Bahamian, shoulder the same burden of responsibility as stakeholders in our nation’s health, security and continued well-being.

“Employers and employees must embody a shared sense of strength and resiliency in the face of the unknown.

“Indeed, it will be one of mutual sacrifice and we sincerely hope and pray that employers in the tourism sector will try as best as they can to provide whatever help that they can to their loyal, hardworking, particularly vulnerable staff as we weather this COVID-19 crisis.”

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Rachel Knowles

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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