By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Harbour Island hotelier yesterday urged the government to adopt "a more calibrated approach" to the surge in COVID-19 infections rather than cut off all commercial transport links to the US.
Benjamin Simmons, proprietor of The Other Side and Ocean View properties, told Tribune Business that The Bahamas needed to tackle the issue on an island-by-island basis rather than use "a one-size-fits-all blanket approach" to combat the increase in infections in New Providence and Grand Bahama since the borders opened.
He argued that Family Islands with no COVID-19 infections, and which were enforcing all the necessary health protocols, should not be penalised for the issues impacting The Bahamas' major urban centres.
Mr Simmons added that if the Minnis administration had concerns about visitors bringing the virus with them, even if they produced a negative COVID-19 PCR test within the required ten-day window, then it could limit the load factors or available seating on incoming commercial aircraft to 50 percent capacity or require smaller planes.
"I would have hoped for a bit more of a calibrated approach," he told this newspaper, "and address the problems where the problems are rather than a one-size-fits-all blanket approach. The Bahamas is not one island. There's many of them. I think we have to calibrate the response in a manner that fits the geographical reality.
"If an island does not have a case, and there are no issues with the way it is handling COVID-19, why cut them off at the knees? We're hoping there will be that adjustment.... It is what it is. We're in belly of the snake right now with this virus. We'll keep on adapting and hope the administration see there's a way to calibrate the response that allows us to function."
The government's decision to close The Bahamas' borders to all commercial air and sea travel from the US with effect from tomorrow was yesterday said to have sent many visitors, both leisure and corporate, "scrambling" to book return flights home.
Many resort properties were also reacting negatively to the Prime Minister's decision to cut off commercial travel from The Bahamas' major source market that provides 82 percent of the country's visitors. Sandals Emerald Bay was said to have told all guests they must leave by tomorrow, while there were unconfirmed suggestions that Resorts World Bimini may close for three months.
With The Bahamas entering the slowest part of the tourism season, and uncertainty over when commercial travel from the US may resume, many properties will likely decide to close until the fall/winter season and furlough staff.
However, The Bahamas remains open to private aviation and boat traffic, which means Family Islands which thrive on such business, in particular, will still see tourism business - albeit much reduced.
Mr Simmons said Harbour Island hoteliers, vacation rental and other tourism providers, were all hoping charter operators will be able to fill the void left by the commercial airlines when they met yesterday.
"We've lost one reservation so far, and more may follow," he added. "It's definitely unsettling for our guests. There's a lot of private charters willing to step up and get people to us, and we'll keep our doors open and stay open as long as guests come to us.
"We cannot replace the Silver Airways drop, which is the main way people get to us, and I know the airlines would have appreciated a little more warning. Everybody is very concerned."
However, Mr Simmons said there were signs that many Harbour Island guests were "moving their flights up to arrive before the closure so that they can get in and then make their way back by boat and private charter, and as flights allow.
"It's another hurdle which, unfortunately, our guests have to go through. A lot of them want to get out of the US and come and relax here, and they are very respectful of the rules and laws we have in place."