The COVID-19 crisis has refocused attention on the need to diversify The Bahamas’ economy as a critical pillar of sustainability. The pandemic’s crippling impact on the tourism sector was the focus of a recent research discussion at University of The Bahamas (UB). While presenting at the virtual Research Edge forum recently, Dean of Graduate Studies and Research Dr. Vik Nair, a professor of sustainable tourism, said establishing a viable agriculture sector will reduce the impact of current and future crises, while undergirding healthy communities. Dr. Nair noted that a fetal reliance on tourism is no longer sustainable, adding that all it takes is one significant enough external economic shock to expose the fragility of the tourism industry in the most unflattering way.
“This crisis will reshape the industry’s future landscape,” said Dr. Nair in a presentation entitled Post COVID-19: Challenging the Tourism Industry to be More Resilient, Responsible and Sustainable. “A new norm is taking shape. Given the crisis, what action should the stakeholders of this industry be taking today, from a marketing and communications perspective? We are all figuring this out together. However, what is certain is, a business as usual approach is almost certainly wrong.” He also pointed to the inherent benefits of a developed agriculture industry, particularly for a small island developing state like The Bahamas. “Agriculture is one of the sectors that needs to be emphasized in all island nations, including The Bahamas,” noted Dr. Nair. “Besides diversifying the economy, it ensures food security, builds healthy communities, supports trade and reduces import dependence. With innovation, it can attract youth to be interested in agriculture as well. Bringing tourism into play with agriculture in the form of ‘agri-tourism’ is certainly the way forward for the country.”
According to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), The Bahamas is one of the most tourism-dependent economies in the world. Tourism accounts for 50 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2019, the country recorded a record 7.2 million visitors. However, the tourism industry and the country overall are vulnerable to crises like infectious diseases and the drastic effects of climate change. According to an official announcement, the government has also allocated $1.6 million to accelerate food production to reduce The Bahamas’ heavy dependence on imports. The country’s food import cost is approximately $1 billion.
At the same virtual research forum, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of the Tourism Development Corporation, Janet Johnson, said although COVID-19 has exposed the industry’s weaknesses, it has also provided a prime opportunity to review and revise outdated tourism models and products. “This is a great opportunity to refresh any product that we’ve had for a while that may be getting a little tired and may need a little spruce up,” she said. “Because obviously it’s not going to be business as usual anymore. We need to look at new and innovative ways to come back to market and to be able to operate. And so, it’s not going to be the same old, same old when we turn the corner.”
However, Ms. Johnson said central to the tourism industry’s rebound from the COVID-19 crisis will be encouraging and promoting the need for more domestic tourism amongst Bahamian citizens and residents alike. “Domestic travel is going to be more important than ever,” she said. “That whole concept of ‘buy Bahamian’ is going to be huge when we come back. Bahamians need to appreciate that we need to spend money at home. We need to invest in our islands, we need to go back to the islands. We need to stay in small hotel properties and support Bahamians, investors of small properties, when we go home as much as possible.” The focus of the Research Edge discussion was examining post crisis strategies and the long-term strategic direction that needs to be reflected to make the tourism industry in The Bahamas more resilient, responsible and sustainable.