It has been almost impossible to discuss economic development in The Bahamas without the discussion turning to the urgent need for diversification away from its reliance on tourism.
Invariably the undependability and fickleness of tourism are proffered, a position reinforced by the impact of COVID-19.
Further, the overwhelmingly international ownership of our resorts sector is a favorite whipping boy for some who are resentful of foreign persons and foreign-owned entities, period. Still, unlike Jamaicans, Bahamians have not gone into hotel resort ownership in a major way.
Notwithstanding the naysayers, tourism and the provision of services present our best opportunities for diversification: diversification in product offering, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.
Change and technological advances have been transforming economies and rendering industrial and manufacturing processes obsolete since the beginning of the industrial revolution and at an accelerated pace since the advent of personal computers.
No segment or sector of the world’s economy has proven to be invulnerable to change, tourism being no exception.
But travel and tourism and international services are adept at absorbing change; not only surviving but thriving.
Today, tourism and travel are the fastest growing segments of the world economy, responsible for one out of 10 jobs and more than 10 percent of global GDP.
Here in The Bahamas, tourism and services account for more than half of our GDP and perhaps as many as six out of 10 jobs directly and indirectly.
Tourism is the only industry that produces employment for the least educated school drop-out, the in-betweens and the highly educated and prepared professional. It creates jobs for people of all skill levels in our society, including university graduates, skilled engineers and architects, contractors, accountants, artists, plumbers, electricians, straw and craft vendors, taxi and land and sea tour operators, restaurateurs and culinary staffs, shopkeepers, entertainers, wait staff, maids, maintenance crews and landscapers.
These employees in turn support doctors, pharmacies, insurance companies, realtors, lawyers, building and hardware stores and the public service and all the services it provides.
In our region, states that once decried Bahamian reliance on tourism now compete with us, having come to the realization that tourism and services are the surest way to improving the standards of living for a majority of their people.
The health emergency that has enveloped the world especially since March proved to be tourism’s worst nightmare, shuttering hotels and hence jobs, halting sailings of cruise ships and slashing economic activity.
Our most urgent task now is to arrest and reverse the spread of COVID-19 and make our country a safe place for international travel.
In the meantime, we must increase the linkages of all sectors of our economy with tourism by producing more high-quality foods including marine products, fresh fruits and vegetables, condiments and spices but also a variety of quality furnishings, souvenirs, textiles and artwork.
Advances in the food sector can lower our food import bill and improve the quality in the diet of Bahamians, an important goal given the high incidence of non-communicable diseases in our country, many tied to poor eating habits and many increasing the severity of COVID-19 for infected individuals.
Together with financial and other services, tourism forms the basis of an economy that has permitted us to achieve a standard of living that remains the envy of our region. And, it has permitted our dollar to achieve and maintain parity with the US dollar
Tourism and services are not segments we should seek to diminish in these hard times. Instead, we should continue to reinvent them to meet the ever-changing conditions shaping the global economy.
For The Bahamas, tourism and travel are irreplaceable segments of our economy.