Is July 1 reopening too much too soon?
As the Minnis Administration tries to jumpstart a failing economy by racing to reopen borders come July 1st, critics of the Administration and its decision to reopen now are suggesting an alternative – the government should put more focus on encouraging domestic travel amongst Bahamians.
The US is doing it. Campaigns for Americans to plan for domestic vacations and to venture out on more road trips this summer are being launched throughout the United States. The greater majority of people who typically visit these shores come from the US and those critics believe these campaigns could ensure even less of the economic boost needed to justify so soon a reopening of borders.
As an archipelagic nation, The Bahamas has a number of get-away destinations and they feel encouraging Bahamians to travel to them this summer and for the foreseeable future can provide a economic injection to those island economies more safely.
“I feel that it just makes sense for the government to encourage more Bahamians to visit the Family Islands right now, instead of opening the country up to foreigners. Only a small number of them looking to visit now anyhow,” a Family Island resident told The Gallery. “The virus has mostly been contained here so it’s much safer for Bahamians to travel between the islands and spend their money with other Bahamians, which goes a long way I think in helping to improve the wider economy and not just limiting the opportunities to Nassau. This is where the focus needs to be. The government needs to do more; partner with tourism stakeholders in the Family Islands to make travelling between the islands more affordable right now.”
Echoing those sentiments, one Facebook user wrote, “The MOT (Ministry of Tourism) needs to encourage Bahamians to do more domestic travel. Bahamasair needs to introduce special fares for travel to the Family Islands. Vacation at HOME. Support Bahamian attractions... AIR BnBs, boutique resorts, small hotels on the islands should introduce affordable packagages.”
One critic in the Tourism industry, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of victimization, gave still a different perspective and noted that the July 1 date barely gives Bahamians enough time to adjust after living with the restrictions imposed to mitigate spread for nearly three months.
“July 1st is too soon to reopen our borders,” she said. “Give us time to adjust first. How can we be expected to give our best to visitors when we ourselves are still trying to figure out how to live in this new norm. Only just recently coming out of lockdown, many Bahamians are just trying to live right now and enjoy the freedom that Minnis them allowing us. We see that in the videos being posted on social media. Nobody checking.”
She added that despite the announcement of the July 1 reopening, many of the major hotels in the capital have decided to remain close, choosing instead to reopen in the latter part of the year or even next year. Cruise lines similarly have given no definitive date for resuming service.
A push for domestic travel also has the potential to bring revival to another sector – culture – reintroducing Bahamians to that downhome life and its many wonderful traditions.
“We’ve lost our way as Bahamians. A Family Island experience, even if only for a few days, is a good reminder of how lucky we truly are and how good it truly is to be Bahamian,” a Long Islander said when asked about his thoughts on encouragement for domestic travel.
These critics all agree though that the government and Tourism Ministry officials should do more to incentivize industry stakeholders to make domestic travel that much more attractive to Bahamians.
Currently, Bahamasair is offering special rates to a number of Family Islands, but with only a small window of opportunity to capitalize on them, and with the National Flag carrier now eyeing a hike in airfare to the islands and baggage fees to increase revenue, there appears little hope of this market taking off, unless the powers that be make it possible.
Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar announced in the House a few days ago that the airline was looking at increasing ticket prices and baggage fees based on recommendations by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to better align pricing on the cost of service to its domestic routes.