Tour companies preparing for realities of tourism amid COVID-19

Tour companies are preparing for the realities of tourism amid COVID-19 and under the restrictions set out in the tourism and health sectors. Some businesses are shifting certain components of their operation ever so slightly to comply with the guidelines, while others, despite the challenges ahead, just want to get back to businesses.

Dario McKinney, a principal of Exuma Escapes Bahamas Limited, said the guidelines set out by the country’s Tourism Readiness and Recovery Plan present a challenge for those in the tour industry, given the social distancing rules and suggestion to cut a craft’s capacity by 50 percent.

He said for many tour companies a reduction in seat numbers could mean a steep drop-off in revenue.

“The backbone of tourism is the transport industry and that industry is based on value,” said McKinney.

“If you break that down, you might end up either breaking even, meaning you worked that day for free, or on paper you’re actually operating at a loss.”

To allay that challenge facing boat charters like Exuma Escapes, McKinney said the company will pivot to focus on chartering their boats mostly to groups that have traveled together and families, in order to free themselves of the social distancing worry altogether.

“A lot of North Americans who come here usually come with family, we’re not going to separate a family,” he said.

“We will have to book in family groups and do a lot more private tours. They are becoming more and more popular now.”

McKinney, whose company takes visitors to the famous swimming pigs and offers other excursions, said the company’s largest market tended to be visitors from China.

He said he and his business partners watched the news of the spread of COVID-19 carefully and began to prepare the company for the shutdown they knew was coming.

“Our numbers started to dwindle from last December,” McKinney said.

“We watched the numbers. We started talking to partners in Asia. Guests from China started to talk about it; they were angry that the United States was painting China as the bad guy.

“For spring break the numbers started to pick up, but then the numbers went in the other direction. We started to save, putting some funds on the side. We started packing away our reserve cash, because certain things still require payments even though you’re shut down.

“We didn’t know what the government was going to do about VAT (value-added tax). We did’t take a quarterly dividend share, we put it in the emergency fund.”

According to McKinney, Exuma Escapes is ready to get back to business and is working on exciting packages for locals as soon as it is able to provide its service again.

On land, Jaime Lewis, the owner of a popular niche tour company offering culinary experiences called Islandz Tours, said the the COVID-19 guidelines present his company with both opportunities and challenges. One of those challenges, he said, will be absorbing the cost of providing personal protective equipment (PPE).

“On one hand, they should allow for us to deliver our product as safely as possible for our guests, venue partners and team members,” said Lewis.

“On the other hand, social distancing requires us to reduce the number of guests we can accommodate, in addition to absorbing the added costs of PPEs, hand sanitizers, etc. So we fully expect a difficult road ahead.”

Despite this, he said he and his partners are eager to get back to business.

“These challenges are shared across the board with our bar and restaurant partners and I imagine that after missing out on three months of revenue, everyone is just eager to get guests back into their establishments as safely as possible,” he said.

“Once we all get back to trading, hopefully we can collectively assure tourists that The Bahamas is a safe, friendly destination and we see visitor numbers increase into 2021.”

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Chester Robards

Chester Robards rejoined The Nassau Guardian in November 2017 as a senior business reporter. He has covered myriad topics and events for The Nassau Guardian. Education: Florida International University, BS in Journalism

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