Dionisio D’Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, predicted stopover visitor arrivals will hit a 45,000 post-COVID re-opening peak for March – albeit they remain up to 90 percent down on pre-pandemic levels.
While total visitor arrivals to The Bahamas were down 74 percent year-over-year in 2020, which was a greater plunge than the Caribbean’s 67 percent average, the minister added: “For the past four months, we have received over 125,000 travel applications from both visitors and returning residents. Since the New Year, we are averaging over 2,000 each day”.
For March, close to 45,000 visitors will apply for a health visa given that Easter falls at the end of this month and the hotels are reporting healthier bookings.
With stopover visitors currently at just 10-12 % of the 1.8m that The Bahamas attracted pre-COVID in 2019, Mr D’Aguilar argued: “No matter what the pundits say, there is absolutely nothing that can replace tourism in the short-term. Our tourism industry has received billions upon billions upon billions of investment, employs two out of every three Bahamians and generates at least 50 percent of our GDP”.
Dionisio D’Aguilar told the House of Assembly during the mid-year Budget debate that tourism’s revival – and that of the wider economy and government finances – hinge on the speed and success of vaccination roll-outs in The Bahamas and its key visitor source markets.
“Given the significance of tourism, given our dependency on tourism, our recovery and the subsequent reduction of this massive $1.3bn annual deficit is contingent on the revival of tourism. Plain and simple. Our economy will improve when tourism improves.
“And tourism will improve when persons feel safe to travel here. And tourism will improve when the current health situation improves in our core markets such that they don’t need to go through the current riga-ma-roll of COVID testing and getting a health visa in order to travel to The Bahamas.
“So, I encourage all Bahamians to get vaccinated as quickly as they can, especially those employed in the tourism sector. If our visitors are vaccinated and we are vaccinated, then we will be in a good position to blow open the borders and let the good times roll again.”