Tourism Minister: ‘Vaccination is critical to economic turnaround’

TOURISM MINISTER GETS VACCINATED – Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar receives his vaccination shot. Minister D’Aguilar said the country’s economic recovery from the fall-out from the COVID-19 pandemic will depend on Bahamians, particularly those in the tourism industry, taking advantage of opportunities to receive vaccinations. (BIS PHOTO: KEMUEL STUBBS)

Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguilar has urged Bahamians, particularly those in the tourism industry, to take advantage of the opportunities to get vaccinated.

“Our country, the revival of our critical tourism industry, employment, incomes, are dependent on tourism and tourism, trust me, is dependent on people getting vaccinated,” Minister D’Aguilar said. “If our visitors are vaccinated and we are vaccinated, then we will be in good position to blow open the borders and let the good times roll again. As the Prime Minister has said, if we have low cases of COVID, as we do, and our population gets vaccinated, income and employment from tourism will bounce to the record 2019 levels. So I encourage all Bahamians to get vaccinated as quickly as they can, especially those employed in the tourism sector.”

Minister D’Aguilar said ministry officials have been receiving calls “every day from Americans” who have been vaccinated asking if they can travel to The Bahamas without getting a PCR Test.

“Right now, we have to say no which is deterring some potential visitors. They must still get a PCR Test because if they come to The Bahamas vaccinated, but infected, then you run the risk of infecting a Bahamian who is unvaccinated and making them really sick.

“So please my fellow Bahamians, get vaccinated! Given the significance of tourism, given our dependency on tourism, our recovery and the subsequent reduction of this massive $1.3Billion annual deficit is contingent on the arrival of tourism, plain and simple! Our economy will improve when tourism improves.”

D’Aguilar said the economic fallout from Hurricane Dorian in 2019 and the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the Bahamian economy.

He said in 2019, prior to the passage of Dorian, the economy was doing well. The government, Minister D’Aguilar said, took in $2.4 billion in revenue while spending $2.6 billion, leaving a deficit of $200 million – the lowest deficit in many years. In 2020, with the effects of Dorian and the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the government’s revenue decreased from $2.4 billion down to $2.1 billion, while the government’s spending increased from $2.6 billion to $2.9 billion.

“So, revenue is down by $300 million at the same time, spending is up by $300 million that has the effect of growing the annual deficit from $200 million to $800 million. Now this year comes along. The rebuilding of Abaco is underway, far less tourists are coming to The Bahamas due to the Pandemic and the effects of this is that revenue decreases from $2.4 billion in 2019, to $2.1 billion in 2020 to $1.7 billion in 2021. Meanwhile our expenditures increase from $2.6Billion in 2019, to $2.9 billion in 2020 to $3 billion in 2021.

“To summarize,” Minister D’Aguilar continued, “this year, we are taking in $1.7 billion, we are spending $3 billion leaving a deficit of $1.3 billion. An unprecedented deficit, the largest deficit ever, which we all agree became necessary to cope with the ravages that Hurricane Dorian and this once in a century Pandemic has wrought on the Bahamian people.”

Minister D’Aguilar said while governments “the world over” are borrowing heavily to keep their citizens afloat, there is no doubting that The Bahamas’ $1.3 billion deficit is unsustainable.

“You can’t keep borrowing $1.3Billion year after year and not run yourself up on rocks. So, we have two choices, to reduce the record deficit, either you increase revenue, or you reduce spending, or you do a bit of both. Let us all agree that it is hard to cut spending, even in the best of times, but especially in the worst of times. The government has had to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to keep

its corporations and agencies afloat. These entities, like Bahamasair, have been so impacted by the pandemic that without way more government support than was ever anticipated, they would have gone under.

“The government has also had to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to keep Civil Servants employed and on the same pay, to provide food assistance, income support, unemployment benefits, small business loans – the list is substantial and the amounts substantial too. No government in the history of The Bahamas has done as much as this government; has spent as much as this government in such a short period to provide assistance to its people.”

Minister D’Aguilar said The Bahamas must “grow back” its economy. He said citizens getting vaccinated, is one way of helping to do just that.

“As we all know, the effects of this COVID-19 Pandemic have been devastating on the Bahamian economy. The lifeblood of our economy, tourism, has been impacted beyond anything we could ever have imagined.”

D’Aguilar said cruise passengers, which accounted for 5.4 million visitors, or 75 percent of the country’s record-breaking 7.2 million visitor arrivals in 2019, “have totally evaporated and now we get absolutely zero cruise passengers – 5.4 million down to zero.”

Stopover passengers, he said, which accounted for 1.8 million, or 25 percent of the country’s record-breaking 7.2 million visitor arrivals in 2019, are a mere 10-12 percent of what they once were.

“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 investments, employs two out of every three Bahamians and generates at least 50 percent of our GDP.

“Our economy will improve when tourism improves. Plain and simple! And tourism will improve when persons feel safe to travel here; tourism will improve when the current health situation improves in our core markets such that they don’t need to go through the current rig-ma-roll of COVID Testing and getting a health visa in order to travel to The Bahamas and so I encourage all Bahamians to get vaccinated as quickly as they can, especially those employed in the tourism sector,” Minister D’Aguilar added.

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