By Lucy Chabot Reed
Yachts and the yachting community -- the only piece of the tourism sector still active in the Bahamas -- are the island nation’s top priority, several high-level Bahamian officials declared In a webinar yesterday.
“The yachting community contributes significantly to our economic success, and yachts are still here in our country, contributing to our economy,” said Kenneth Romer, executive director of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation. “Right now, the only active segment of tourism is yachts moving around our country. We, more than ever, need you [the yachting community] to partner with us to clear this hurdle.”
“You are important to us, and we are confident we can provide the experience you are seeking,” said Joy Jibrilu, director general of the Ministry of Tourism & Aviation. “Boaters and yachters are definitely welcome to come discover the Bahamas.”
More than 200 people attended a webinar on the status of the Bahamas for yacht guests, many of them charter brokers and captains. If the webinar chat function was any indication, most were interested in the latest development in protocols as well as trip itinerary ideas in the Out Islands.
Despite going back into a two-week lockdown on Aug. 4, international travellers arriving by private aircraft or yacht are still permitted in the Bahamas. Visitors must visit travel.gov.bs and submit a health visa application as well as a negative RT-PCR test within 10 days of arrival.
Upon arrival, yacht guests must report to government officials when clearing in where they will spend their 14-day quarantine. The quarantine can be completed onboard, either at anchor or in a marina. Yachts can move around, but people cannot go ashore during the quarantine on any habited island, Jibrilu said.
Guests must also download a contract tracing app to their phones for the duration of the quarantine.
Once the quarantine is complete, face masks must be worn in public and social distancing must be maintained. During the lockdown, a curfew is in place from 10 p.m.-5 a.m. Find details of those protocols at bahamas.com/tourism-reopening. Other protocols apply if the quarantine is complete during the lockdown, including another test.
Out Island itineraries
Kerry Fountain, executive director of the Bahamas Out Island Promotion Board, gave a 36-page PowerPoint presentation on the Out Islands, focusing on the Berry Islands (beginning on page 8), Eleuthera (page 11), Harbour Island (page 16), the Exumas (page 19), COVID and entry requirements (page 25), and other Out Island areas (page 36).
If venturing north to Abaco, he advised to stay south to avoid areas still rebuilding after Hurricane Dorian damaged the area in September 2019.
The Bahamas had 945 positive cases of COVID-19 as of Monday at 3:35 p.m., he said. By contrast, Eleuthera had 1, he said, encouraging quarantining yachts to explore the region.
Occupancy in the marinas that belong to the Association of Bahamas Marinas (ABM) was nearly 100% in the two weeks after the country opened July 1, said Joe Dargavage, ABM vice president. But in the past week, it has dropped dramatically. Many boats left because of Hurricane Isaias, “so it’s not just COVID,” he said.
“We don’t know how long this is going to be,” Dargavage said. “We have to work within the guidelines, but we can do this. You are welcome to the country, you are welcome to bring your vessels across the Gulf Stream, you are welcome in Customs and Immigration, you are welcome in our marinas.”
The panel of Bahamas officials all reiterated that yachts, their owners, guests and crew were all welcome in the islands, especially now.
“The yachting segment has been given priority by the Ministry of Tourism and, by extension, the Bahamian government,” Romer said. “We cannot overcome these hurdles in isolation. Our present situation is not our final condition. Right now, our economy is taking a beating. [40% unemployment and $1 billion in economic erosion]. You are our national priority, the luxury segment and specifically our yachting community. Tell us what works best for you. The people of the Bahamas appreciate you, we love you and want you to partner with us.”