Operating in the Time of Coronavirus
By: Ryan Austin - ECC Secretary
Speaking to reporters, Acting Director of Labour, John Pinder stated that “Once the rest of the world is opened up, they want to start to travel. Exuma, Eleuthera & Cat Island and those islands that don’t have any cases of coronavirus are in such a good strategic position right now to be able to take advantage of what’s going to happen in the next month or two.” He further went on to say that these islands “need to be ready, not just stay relaxed. Be ready!”
We want to be ready! But what does being ready look like? Our leadership in The Bahamas has a lot on its plate fighting the spread of Covid-19. It is quite literally all they have time for. I believe then, that it is essential for the business community of all islands to ease that burden by generating a well thought out plan for their area and begin dialogue with the government preferably through their respective chambers. We can minimize being painted with a broad brush if we present a plan of our own.
We are going to have to learn to live with the fact that Covid-19 is out there while looking at a strategic way to open our economy. The new reality.
Social distancing will be ‘a thing’ for some time even after the economy is slowly and methodically reopened.
Widespread testing is critical. Both of our visitors and locals.
Our economy must evolve to become more resilient in the time of Coronavirus, which could last many months, years.
Together we can create a plan for Eleuthera.
Bahamas 2.0 - The Long Term
If we are to combat the long term effects of Covid-19 and eventual reemergence of new coronaviruses we will need to build a new economy. One that is based on gradually reducing imports and our ability to produce world class products while aggressively pursuing tourism and foreign direct investments as we always have. This is a ‘tourism and’ strategy not a ‘tourism or’ one.
The benefit of focusing on such an approach builds up the nation's own immunity and resilience to shock and disaster in ways no previous event has. During the 2008 recession, we saw a loss of 11.2 percent GDP. This loss placed unemployment at more than 15 percent and set in motion a course of negative or flat growth that the nation is still recovering from. More recently, hurricane Dorian in 2019 swept across two key economic powerhouses and in three days wiped out an estimated $200 million in revenue. Damages caused by Dorian represented 15-20 percent of our GDP and cost $3.4 billion dollars in damage.
Some medium to long term goals are:
Building our own e-commerce platforms that can be integrated with our local banks. We will need a ‘Shopify’ like experience where Bahamian retailers and creators can get their products to the world.
Because of the increased move to e-commerce, banks could be incentivized to offer attractive merchant discount rates.
A focus on manufacturing. Stimulate businesses that can produce locally products currently being imported.
We have already seen this with the level of production of face masks and hand sanitizers. We may also see this in the long term with medical supplies such as scrubs or swabs necessary to perform coronavirus tests.
Food sovereignty & security. Addressing supply chain shortfalls within the local farming and fishing industry to ensure that greater than 90 percent of the produce in the market is produced locally.
Bahamas Now - The Short Term
Considering that in the next 2 to 4 weeks, governments globally will be under immense pressure to reopen their economy we must here in The Bahamas think strategically about ways to allow the flow of foreign dollars to prop up an already strained public system. In doing so, we must also harness the ethos of this coronavirus climate. As Health Minister Dr Duane Sands has stated, “we will have to be deliberate and cautious and careful in a methodical rollout of the reopening.” In this spirit we could consider a pilot to reopen the borders of coronavirus free islands like Eleuthera if:
Visitors present a certificate of testing within the week of travel
Visitors fly non-stop into Eleuthera with partner airlines.
Temperature checks at ports of entry.
Boating might wait until we have proven that screening measures are working.
Whole home rentals such as AirBNB & VRBO ideal. No room or couch rentals.
Boutique Hotels and Resorts with no elevators or casinos are also viable.
Visitors and locals must wear masks at all times
Further supports the mask industry with new clientele.
Opportunity for businesses to merchandise masks
Home & Vehicle renters must sanitise before and prior to guest departure.
Fine dining and sit down may need to remain closed with take out only being the order of the day.
Bars and clubs would need to remain closed.
Liquor stores reopen.
A task force of civil servants are retrained and deployed to enforce these rules throughout the island.
To execute a deliberate, cautious, careful and methodical rollout this may be necessary.
Small isolated locations such as Harbour Island are ideal for such a pilot.
There are questions we will need to answer if such a plan is ever considered. In Eleuthera, we currently have no cases of Covid-19, so, is reopening worth the risk of community spread? What is the risk of not planning to reopen? There are scenarios that we will need a documented plan for. I understand that we have a few wedding groups and families anxious to travel as soon as June to our safe destination - should we find a way to accommodate them? While the ideas and action steps expressed here are not exhaustive, it is my sincere hope that they are the first blocks of a plan we can all build on. From down north to up south, we are in this together.
Call to Action
We are inviting Eleuthera businesses to please share your ideas for reopening with us by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan Austin serves on the board as Secretary for the Eleuthera Chamber of Commerce. He is a small business owner with businesses in Harbour Island and Nassau. His educational background is in computer science and he has spent his entire corporate career in Information Technology before becoming an entrepreneur. Ryan enjoys planning and solving complex, technical issues and spending time on the beach with his family.
You can reach him directly at Ryan@cocoacoffeehouse.com.