The government is eyeing a near full reopening of the tourism industry in early November, Minister of Tourism Dionisio D’Aguilar said yesterday, as he noted the country is already in phase two of a four-phase plan.
D’Aguilar made the comments while noting there was a 56 percent decrease year-over-year in tourism numbers in the first six months of 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the plan, phase three of the tourism reopening will begin on October 15, with full beach access to be allowed on all islands, the reopening of major hotels and access to all amenities, and water taxis permitted to operate.
On November 1, it is expected that attractions, tours and excursions will resume.
However, it remains unclear when phase four, which will allow vendors, jet ski operations, casinos, cruises and ferries, to resume operations, will begin.
“Our recommendation to the government will be the implementation of a 15 October, 2020, reopening for hotels on all islands to resume full operations and the full use of the beach – a critical component of our tourism product [and] the number one reason why persons come on vacation to The Bahamas,” said D’Aguilar at a Ministry of Tourism press conference.
“This will allow our land-based tourism industry enough time to slowly ramp up to benefit from the traditional Thanksgiving travel period leading into the Christmas and New Year season.”
D’Aguilar said it is hoped that the phased reopening combined with strict hygiene and safety protocols will prevent a need to again close down the industry.
“We cannot afford to open and then close right back down again,” he said.
“That was too traumatic for the tourism sector and significantly impacted our relationship with our travel partners.
“We need a period of calm, a period of certainty, and a period for those in the tourism sector to methodically plan the measured reopening of their businesses. Of utmost importance will be adherence to health and safety protocols for our communities, so that we stand a much better chance of a successful recovery and eventual return to full employment in our industry.”
Visitors are required to obtain a travel health visa, which requires them to have tested negative for COVID-19, within five days of travel to The Bahamas.
D’Aguilar said the government is considering the use of artificial intelligence to ensure the efficiency of the granting of health visas.
“Once you upload your test, a newly formed Travel Compliance Unit in the Ministry of Tourism will review the test to make sure it is negative, within the required time period and from an accredited lab,” he said.
“If all is in order, your travel visa is approved via email.
“Once visitor arrivals start to ramp back up, however, we will need added features to speed up processing time to ensure travelers are not inconvenienced by long wait times for a travel health visa. So, we are actively looking at private sector solutions to allow for an almost instantaneous approval using artificial intelligence.
“This situation is very fluid but we are actively seeking to get ahead of it.”
Upon arrival, visitors will have to quarantine, or “vacation in place” for either 14 days or the length of their trip, whichever is shorter.
D’Aguilar said the marketing strategy is expected to communicate a more pleasant experience than the use of the word quarantine does.
“To further limit the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, all hotels will be deemed an approved quarantine facility, and visitors will be required to remain on-site for the duration of their stay, in what we have designated as a tourism-safe bubble,” he said.
“[We] have carefully chosen language that communicates the act of quarantining, a rather harsh word that conjures up, in the minds of the prospective travelers, something most unpleasant, especially when you state that persons entering the country have to quarantine for 14 days and some may have to do that in a government mandated facility.
“[It’s] not very tourism-friendly. Therefore, I have instructed the Ministry of Tourism to stop using that word, quarantine, and start promoting to the visiting public the full VIP experience. VIP – vacation in place.”
He assured, however, that vacationing in place is the same as quarantine, and the experience “remains governed extensively by the protocols outlined in the emergency orders and the Tourism Readiness and Recovery Plan”.
D’Aguilar said early indicators show that airlines are eager to resume flights to The Bahamas with JetBlue and Air Canada already conducting flights, and American Airlines set to resume flights this week.
He said Delta and Southwest are set to resume in early October, once the tourism industry is “up and running”.
However, he said the cruise industry is unlikely to pick back up until later in the year.
“With relation to the cruise market, unfortunately, there is no good news to report,” he said.
“I have been in discussions with all of the major cruise lines and none of them have received any indication from the Centers for Disease Control when their no sail orders will be lifted.
“Right now, all of the cruise companies have voluntarily agreed that they will not be sailing until 31 October, 2020, but sadly, it seems very likely that cruising out of the United States will not recommence until possibly late November or early December.”