The Bahamas has to shift its tourism model to favor Bahamians in the aftermath of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, along with finding an industry or industries to complement the tourism sector’s importance in relation to gross domestic product (GDP), Professor of the School of Business and Hospitality Management at the University of The Bahamas Olivia Saunders told Guardian Business.
Saunders agreed that The Bahamas can diversify away from its dependency on tourism, but contended that the model that currently exists, which she said discriminates against Bahamians, should be corrected in the meantime.
“We should move immediately to change the tourism model that was fashioned in the early 20th Century…that is, a model based on discrimination against Bahamians, particularly those of African descent, with respect to what they can own, where they can own and operate it, where they can work and their ability to patronize and interact with certain groups of tourists.”
Saunders said technology is somewhat bridging the gap, especially through apps like Airbnb, but she contended that the government must do more, especially through the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation, to assist Bahamians in marketing their small piece of the industry, just as it assists in marketing for the large players.
“Advancing technology is already changing the model,” she said.
“There are many Bahamians who are now directly involved in hosting tourists via Airbnb. This should be encouraged and support for them should be given at the same level, vis-à-vis marketing and promotion, as is done with the large, foreign-owned resorts.”
Saunders said expanding the reach of Bahamians in the industry will mean the tourism dollar will go directly to Bahamians. It will make more Bahamians owners of the industry and not just employees. It will build an entrepreneurial class, encourage linkages with small neighborhood businesses, improve the authenticity of the tourist experience and it will ensure that there will not be a repatriation of profits, “but a greater likelihood of domestic investment”.
“As we contemplate diversification, the guiding question should be, ‘How do we enrich the lives of Bahamians socially and economically?’ Creating greater dependence on others to save us and selling off the country’s assets will not do this,” noted Saunders.
New Providence alone has more than 1,400 active properties in the vacation rental market, according to market research website AirDNA.
In August 2017, The Bahamas signed a memorandum of understanding with Airbnb in order to regularize and tax the sector.
Vacation home rental services such as Airbnb have been touted as creating new opportunities for Bahamians to earn from the tourism sector and for The Bahamas to expand its available accommodations outside of hotel properties.