From: Bahamas Information Services
The Exumas are poised to become a tourism investment hub in the region, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation the Hon. Chester Cooper. He was addressing the 15th Annual Exuma Business Outlook, in a virtual conclave on Thursday, October 28, 2021, during which he shared his ‘E-Vision 2030,’ a blueprint for the further development of the island.
The event was held under the theme: Facing Unprecedented Times. Recover. Adapt. Advance. Mr. Cooper acknowledged that there is “no understating” how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Exuma and its Cays, and the country as a whole. But, he noted that he is deeply
invested in and committed to the advancement of Exuma, as he believes the potential is limitless. And, he called on all stakeholders to share in this vision.
“My commitment to Exuma is stronger than ever and we are well-positioned to recover, adapt and advance, as the theme of this outlook says,” Mr. Cooper remarked. He added, “My e-vision 2030 provides a blueprint for where we want to take Exuma, but as I have stressed to you before — we, as business leaders, as Exumians, must have a shared vision to develop our home.”
The minister said he has “a clear roadmap” of how all stakeholders can work to make Exuma boom, but it must be done holistically.
“I envision a hub for the Central and Southern Bahamas and indeed for our nearest Caribbean neighbors, that positions us as a force not only in The Bahamas, but in the region,” said Mr. Cooper, who is the Member of Parliament for Exuma (its Cays) and Ragged Island. The total enhancement of the tourism product throughout the Exumas has to focus on investment, infrastructure, airlift, entrepreneurship, land reform, health care, education and banking, he said: “But we have to tackle what is most exigently at hand. When we talk investment in tourism, we’re clearly talking about tourism projects.” The minister then spoke about some of those plans and initiatives in the pipeline aimed at positioning the Exumas as the tourism investment hub in the region.
He reiterated that Air Canada will resume flights into Exuma with weekly flights from Toronto to Georgetown beginning December, and Virgin Atlantic will schedule flights from the UK to Nassau, which will trickle connections into Exuma. “This is a demonstration of what a hub like Exuma can be. The key is that Exuma remains an attractive area for significant foreign direct investment in the tourism sector.”
He told the business outlook that it is the intention of the Davis-Cooper administration to more closely monitor and regulate vacation rentals. This will be done through registration and inspection of vacation rental properties, ensure safety of guests and protection of the local product and destination. VAT will also be required on vacation rentals.
“We must ensure that Exuma entrepreneurs do not face unfair competition. We welcome visitors but we need our share to help build roads and bridges,” he said. Foreshadowing deep investment in infrastructure on the island, he said public private partnerships are being sought for the redevelopment of the Black Point airport. And, to make that or Staniel Cay a port of entry.
“This will open these islands to the ultra-wealthy [and] for more entrepreneurial opportunities for Exumians with attractive competitive offerings,” he said. “We are reevaluating the public private partnership process for Exuma International Airport as well as other major airports throughout the country, including Grand Bahama, North Eleuthera, Long Island and Cat Island.”
Regarding the largest resort on Exuma, Sandals Emerald Bay, the minister said it is without question the economic contribution of that flagship property has been undeniable.
“The property is preparing for renovations and expansion — it has been a robust contributor to the island and I am advised that occupancy is 90-95 percent in these times (COVID-19 pandemic) he said.
“It is expected that the property will continue its successful run, which will translate into more guests coming to the island.”