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Saturday 3rd December 2011 12:00 PM
December 3: Abaco Christmas Festival 8th annual event. There will be more than 30 vendors on site featuring amazing food, handmade jewelry, unique arts & crafts items, toys, decorations, sweet treats and so much more. Making a special appearance and bearing gifts for the kids will be Santa Claus himself and Her Majesty’s Prison Officers Marching & Pop Bands who will take to center stage performing an array of Christmas hits, along with a host of other lively entertainers. So join us for a jolly time at the 8th Annual Abaco Christmas Festival slated for Saturday, December 3rd in Marsh Harbour. For further information, please contact the Abaco Tourist Office at 367-3067. General activities are: A taste of Abaco's finest cuisine, a visit with Santa, free toys and games for all tots, arts and crafts bazaar, choirs, quartets, soloists, marching and calypso bands, Junkanoo parades,and all-day live entertainment, concluding with the Marsh Harbour Christmas Boat Parade and spectacular fireworks.
The word economy is thrown around a lot in society, but how the world thinks about economic possibility is undergoing a significant change. This Thursday, the multidisciplinary and collaborative network tmg* (the method group) will host their last of three discussions centered on business and design in The Bahamas. After discussing the design and business of producing and promoting "The Bahamian story" and exploring such branding through the case study of architecture, tmg* member Royann Dean brings together a panel of artists, creative entrepreneurs, critical thinkers, economists and politicians to explore how all of this comes together in the creative economy.
On June 16th at 6:30pm at The Hub, panelists John Cox, Jon Murray, Nicolette Bethel, Olivia Saunders and Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Charles Maynard will engage this very complex issue concerning the state of our economy and society.
The creative economy in a broad sense can encapsulate everything at the four-way intersection of art, business, culture and technology. If that sounds hard to pin down, that's because it is -- it's an offshoot of the knowledge economy, and like the knowledge economy, its effects can't entirely be tangibly measured like the imports and exports of other industries. But that doesn't mean it's less valuable or should be overlooked -- on the contrary, creative economy is an extremely important factor in the way a country efficiently and consistently brands itself and grows and thrives. Creative entrepreneurship by artists, nonprofits and businesses can produce goods and services that not only generate jobs and revenue in a country's economy, but also have far-reaching positive societal effects.
"One of the benefits that's been stated about the creative economy is, aside from the economic side of it, that you have social inclusion, because you don't necessarily need to have this division between trained people and less-trained people, because creativity can be reflected in all parts of generating economy," Royann Dean explains. "You have cultural diversity because at all levels people can create something based on culture or heritage and still generate income; and there's more social interaction because you have these people that are going to be bridging these divides to actually create something."
The concept of a creative economy is relatively new; the term began appearing sometime around the turn of the century and has become particularly relevant in the age ofglobalization and rapid modernization. Yet, Dean points out, as the rest of the Caribbean region and indeed world embraces this perspective by encouraging creative entrepreneurship initiatives, The Bahamasseems woefully out of touch with this worldwide shift.
She uses the example of the United Nations Conference of Trade and Development (UNCTAD)'s Creative Economy Report 2010, which analyzes and measures the state of creative economy worldwide. The Bahamas is hardly mentioned alongside varied case studies and efforts by other countries in the region such as Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago. We're essentially ten years behind in terms of creative economy development when we look at our neighbors, Dean points out.
This lack of quantifying our creative industries to gauge its economic benefits is worrying to panelist Jon Murray, who is an entrepreneur in this relatively new and underappreciated sector. He started Downtown Art Tours last year, giving locals and visitors alike a sampling of artistic spaces in our historic city, including the National Art Gallery, The D'Aguilar Foundation, New Providence Arts and Antiques and the murals the Love My Bahamas campaign.
"What's interesting about what I do is that it's service-based," he says. "I provide a service for this stuff that already preexists, so it's almost like a secondary industry where I'm not marketing or selling the works themselves; I have no ownership of the intellectual properties created, which is interesting because so much of creative economy is based on intellectual property."
"I think my business is a service business dependent on there actually being a creative economy," he continues. "Without the other institution and galleries functioning, I can't function appropriately. It shows a level of maturity in our industry if it were on paper."
But, he points out, it's not on paper -- in fact, there are hardly initiatives in place by any sector of society to measure the effects of creative industries and thus investment in potential exports for the country. This is unacceptable for many reasons, one being that our future potential as a destination in the globalized world hinges on culture and heritage -- not the same old sun, sand and sea.
Moderator Royann Dean hopes to also address this idea of "the experience economy" during the talk as it is important to the creative economy. After all, once tourists have their needs met, they seek an overall experience different from any other worldwide, and they are able to get that from culture and heritage.
"For tourism economy-based countries, that's a huge reason to have a good creative industry. This is the same thing Jackson Burnside was talking about 20 years ago -- we have the sun, sand and sea but people aren't going to be coming here for that anymore. Other countries have sun, sand and sea, plus they have mountains," Dean points out. "So the one thing we have going for us in terms of that is accessibility -- but Cuba is right there, and you can already use Euros in Cuba, so where is our experience? Where is our authentic experience? You can't really deliver an authentic experience unless you have something related to some sort of creative or cultural heritage, you can't."
Dean seems to be on point with the global perspective, for in the same UNCTAD Creative Economy 2010 report, their assessment for the region by the organization results in this advice: "In order for Jamaica and the Caribbean to survive in a globalized world, policymakers and stakeholders seeking economic growth and job creation must position the creative industries as the cornerstone of any serious development strategy."
Yet, points out fellow panelist Nicolette Bethel -- educator, anthropologist ,writer and former Director of Cultural Affairs -- we are lacking in that promotion through governmental policy.
"The Bahamas has absolutely no data because we don't think there is anything measurable about the creative economy," she says. "It's sad, but it is a measure of a) who we continue to elect into office and b) who they bring into civil service."
BRANDING & MARKETABILITY
In spite of this and recognizing the need for individuals to drive such change, working with the College of The Bahamas, Bethel has been producing measurable statistics about one of our main cultural industries that have export potential in terms of branding and marketability, and also potential to generate economy within the country: Junkanoo.
These surveys have uncovered quite a bit of information about the cost of Junkanoo, the Junkanoo participant, and also the Junkanoo consumer -- three parts of which can overall address how useful Junkanoo is to the economy, how it functions in branding and tourism, and how it can be used to generate economy in these sectors as well as become a viable source of income for its participants, making it a legitimate and measurable component of our creative economy. Bethel supposes that by making Junkanoo a major part of our creative economy, The Bahamas will see social improvements.
"Junkanoo is our major creative activity. One thing we are able to say is that Junkanoo involves thousands of people every year and many of these people are young men who are not necessarily hugely employable. Now, we have a major problem with unemployment and crime. What we haven't begun to measure is how much in man-hours each person was in the shack, how many hours that is, and just calculate the minimum wage, and thus the value of that particular commodity," she explains.
"If there was some way of generating revenue for some time that they were there -- I think that there are all kinds of ways to generate revenue -- then these people would be working, they'd have jobs. And they'd have jobs they'd generate their own money for that the government wouldn't have to do anything with. In Trinidad for example, this is a major part of their economy. The challenge to the Junkanoo community is how are we going to take all of these man-hours and make them profitable -- make them able to sustain some measure of employment for these guys?"
One way is to up our marketing of Junkanoo--and indeed, all cultural sectors -- to tourists, and this is where our government comes in. After all, they draft the policies that contribute to our branding. Yet this is the area in which Bethel -- and many participants in the creative and heritage sector in this country -- recognize our downfall. While elsewhere in the Caribbean, cultural festivals are seen as a viable source of tourism, employment generation and income, we seem to lack such perspective in The Bahamas, putting cultural events such as hosting CARIFESTA -- which twice we unsuccessfully attempted -- on the backburner.
It's shame because in the same UNCTAD report, they point out that "Heritage tourists are one of the highest-yield tourism groups; they stay longer and spend 38 percent more per day than traditional tourists. Therefore," they continue, " efficient heritage tourism policies and infrastructure at regional level can be an important approach to attract international travelers with special interest in heritage and the arts of the Caribbean region."
So why aren't we catching up to this fact? This is where the creative economy and how it is generated and promoted becomes a chicken-or-the-egg dance between government responsibility and responsibility by the creative community.
GOVERNMENT & POLICY-MAKING
Panelist Charles Maynard, the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, is hoping to add the perspective from the government and policy-making side. Though he agrees that the cultural economy is important and should be developed and structured, his solution lies in the ability by the creative sector to take charge and make the government take notice. He uses Junkanoo to illustrate his point as it's our main creative industry.
"Over a period time Junkanoo has become popular for the general public and the funding followed it. When you have a large sector of your population involved in something and trying to push it forward, those are the kind of things that usually get the attention of the policy-makers," he explains. "The commitment to culture region-wide is always driven by the cultural community itself. If you depend on any government to drive your cultural development in terms of cultural expression and cultural economy, it isn't going to get anywhere."
What Minister Maynard implies in this statement is something many artists already unfortunately -- that they only have each other. In the end, panelist John Cox points out, creative people just make the most of what they have, making connections within the field and with those who can fund them. As founder of Popop Studios -- which recently became an international center of visual arts with their new not-for-profit status, allowing them to invite international artists to work in The Bahamas -- Cox recognizes the power of collaboration and education and the need to move beyond the limited idea of what being an artist or even being creative entails.
"Students say 'I want to do art' but they never really know exactly what they want to do because it's kind of presented to them in these vague terms all throughout primary and secondary school. So they have this vague idea of what it means to be creative, and most of that comes from the idea of well, if they make a hundred paintings and they sell them for a hundred dollars each, that's a hundred thousands dollars, and that's a pretty good salary, right?" he explains. "So we have this kind of basic kind of lemonade stall mentality, which isn't really the way businesses sustain each other. Really the way businesses kind of sustain each other is by networking and partnering and being able to predict long-term relationships with people where you know you're going to be able to build and predict support and also be able to provide an audience for your product, spawning positive future potential and future potential relationships that can build sustainability."
We've already seen that kind of mentality change just in the past five years, for in fact, many artist-run collectives -- the Bahamas Art Collective and Creative Nassau, for example -- are doing just that: bringing together people from all sectors of the creative community to think about creating their own opportunities, self-empowerment and making Nassau a cultural center in the world. Already dissatisfaction about governmental support and a desire to improve the standing of The Bahamas in the creative sector have spawned events just in the past few years such as Shakespeare in Paradise, Carifringe, The Bahamas International Film Festival and the Bahamas Writer's Summer Institute. In the end, it seems artists are always on their own, although they may band together.
But why exactly is this so? And how is the government already investing in the art it sees as having proven itself -- would that be Junkanoo, with already a tremendous amount of untapped potential that we aren't recognizing? The question then seems to become: How do we change what we think is important and worth investing in? Minister Maynard offers the solution of instilling that indefinable "Bahamian spirit" found in Junkanoo in all aspects of the creative sector, but all that offers is more of the same kind of creativity and way of thinking, when creative economy is about reevaluation -- as Royann Dean puts it, "Nobody is looking for new ways to do things, they are looking for new ways to do the same old thing. We need to challenge things." Even Minister Maynard recognizes what's needed is an upheaval of the perception of creativity, even if it is within the perspective of the creative sector simply being responsible for themselves, which is only one dimension of this reality.
"We need to as a country appreciate some of these things we create, to have value for what's ours instead of importing it," he says. "It's cultural awareness, it's a collective thing to be able to team up and do as partners do, not sitting down and feeling sorry for yourself and saying the government isn't doing anything to get you any further in terms of where you want to go -- instead we need to say we need to be more focused not only from an individual standpoint but a collective vision standpoint, we need to have a collective vision."
This is something that panelist Olivia Saunders -- economist and educator -- is most concerned about when she thinks about the economic implications of the creative industry. For when we talk about the creative economy, we're not just talking about the arts -- we're talking about having a creative approach in general to our economy.
"I think I'll look from the perspective that we have to look beyond the boundaries we have set for ourselves in terms of what the economy is and what the economy is supposed to do for us or what the economy is supposed to be. We just have to be creative and think differently about our economy in The Bahamas," she says. "One side of it is how creative we are in this existing economy, whether we think the economy we have is creative. Does it lend itself to creativity, or are we to be considering a brand new kind of economy we can truly call creative? Once we do that, what ought it to mean for us then if we decide to design a sort of creative economy?"
Essentially, she points out, flaws in the systems of our everyday lives contribute to this mindset.
"It's a culture. If you look at our politics, it's not really creative. If you look at so many other aspects of our life, they're not creative," she says. "The economy is an extremely important part of it but it's just a part of how we just look at things, we really don't want too many things to be very different from what we know for sure, so at the very core there has to be people being sufficiently open to accept creativity."
In the end, it would seem it all comes down to how we value ourselves as a culture. After all, if we value intellectualism, if we value creativity, if we value our heritage and indeed ourselves, we become a society open to creative ways to engage and advance our economical structure. And that responsibility is not on any one group, but each group, and each individual, and certainly with response from an open-minded government.
However these only scratch the surface of what the creative economy even is and how to improve it -- the deeper we go, the more we come full circle or stare into an abyss. The first step, Royann Dean emphasis, is to educate yourself about options -- all creative thinkers, government employees, and even people who believe they are not affected by the creative industry, for if the creative economy operates as it should, it affects the entire society positively.
"The whole idea behind tmg* talks was to get the conversation started, to get the ball rolling and to let people know that listen, there are other people thinking the same things you are, asking the same questions and who have ideas. Things can happen," Dean says. "In that way, I'm happy with the result. The question is, what happens after? How do we put the insight that was gained from the talks in motion?"
Have some ideas? Collaboration is the first step, and everyone matters. The discussion begins at 6:30pm at The Hub on Colebrook Lane and East Bay Street and is free to the public though you are welcome to donate to the venue. For more information, visit the tmg* website at www.tmginnovates.com.
May 23 marks the 15th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relationship between the People's Republic of China and the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, which coincides with first sitting of the House of Assembly following the May 7 general election of The Bahamas. I hereby wish to express once again my sincere congratulations to the new government. In the meantime, I wish to take this opportunity to review the gratifying achievements which have been made between China and The Bahamas in such fields as politics, the economy, investment, culture and education, and look forward to the future potential and opportunities before us. By so doing, I hope that we can take the two important events as an opportunity for greater achievements between us and raise the bilateral relations to a new height.
Despite the far distance between the two countries, the exchange between China and The Bahamas has a long history, with people-to-people friendly contact for at least over a century. The fact that there are no historical grievances or immediate disputes between China and The Bahamas lays a solid foundation for the development of bilateral relations. Moreover, it is also in line with the interests of the two countries and the two peoples to develop the bilateral relations.
Since the establishment of diplomatic ties, the relationship between China and The Bahamas has entered a new era of comprehensive development. The two countries surmounted the differences in ideology and social system, worked closely together and brought the advantage of the mutual complementarities into full play, thus resulting in rich rewards.
Politically, China and The Bahamas have respected each other and treated each other equally, giving rise to the frequent high-level exchange of visits. Here I just want to mention some of the important ones. Former Governor General Orville Turnquest, Prime Minister Perry Christie and former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham visited China in 1999, 2004 and 1997, respectively. Former President of the Senate Lynn Holowesko and Former Speaker of the House Alvin Smith visited China in 2010. Chairman Wu Bangguo of the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress (NPC), Vice Chairman Cheng Siwei of the NPC visited The Bahamas in 2009 and 2005, respectively. Vice Premier Hui Liangyu and Vice Premier Wang Qishan visited The Bahamas in 2009 and 2011 in succession. We also have State Counsellor Wu Yi and Deputy Chair Wang Lequan of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee of the Communist Party of China Central Committee who visited The Bahamas in 2003 and 2011, respectively.
Through those high-level exchange of visits, mutual political trust between the two countries has been strengthened and mutual understanding has been promoted, which set the right orientation of the bilateral friendly cooperation and laid a solid foundation for the bilateral cooperation in varying sectors.
Apart from the visits at the state level, there were also a number of ministerial-level exchange of visits between the two countries.
Trade and economy
In the international and regional arena, China and The Bahamas share the same or similar stance in major international and regional issues and have maintained good communication and coordination.
Economically, the two countries have realized a win-win scenario through cooperation of equality and mutual-benefit. China and The Bahamas are highly complementary, with great potential of cooperation and a wide range of cooperative sectors.
Over the years, China and The Bahamas have signed a number of agreements related to the economy, trade and relevant areas, such as the agreement on maritime transactions, the agreement on protection and promotion of mutual investment, the agreement for the exchange of information for tax purposes, the agreements on economic and technical cooperation, the MOU on the implementation of Chinese tourist groups to The Bahamas and the MOU on agricultural cooperation.
The signing of those agreements and MOUs has provided legal framework for the bilateral cooperation in relevant fields. Through bringing the advantage of complementarities into full play, the trade between the two countries has kept increasing, mutual investment has kept expanding, which has brought real benefits to the two countries and the two peoples.
According to statistics, the total trade volume between the two countries in recent years has been at the level of over US$600 million. Chinese enterprises have invested US$150 million as well as a US$2.45 billion commercial loan in The Bahamas. At the same time, The Bahamas has all together invested 194 projects in China, with the total contact volume of US$187.7 million.
In addition, China and The Bahamas have jointly worked together for some projects in The Bahamas by means of using Chinese preferential loans as well as Chinese assistance under bilateral economic and technical agreements.
The newly-dedicated Thomas A. Robison National Stadium of The Bahamas is a hallmark project of the China-Bahamas economic and technical cooperation, which has made the long-term desire of the Bahamian people come true. The Airport Gateway Project is going on well.
And the Baha Mar mega-resort, which the Chinese side has offered commercial loans for, partly invested in and is conducting the construction of, has already created more than a 1,000 job opportunities for the locals, thus having effectively reduced the negative impact on the Bahamian employment caused by the current global financial crisis. It is expected that, upon the completion by the end of 2014, the project will create a total of more than 10,000 direct and indirect job opportunities, which, I am sure, will provide fresh impetus for the growth of the Bahamian tourism industry in particular, and for the economy as a whole.
Talking about the economic cooperation between China and The Bahamas, I'd like to stress the principle China has all along upheld, that is, the economic cooperation between China and The Bahamas is with no political string attached, with no other country targeted at and with no exclusion of the third party.
Culture and education
Culturally and Educationally, the two countries have drawn on the merits of each other and sought mutual complementarities. An acrobatic troupe, a puppet show troupe and a children's performance troupe from China visited The Bahamas while the national youth choir and a song and dance troupe visited China. The president of the Nassau Music Society went to China recently for a visit while the president of the Chinese Musicians Association will visit The Bahamas with a string quartet in his company in early July. And also, China will for the first time take part in the Bahamas International Film Festival in December.
Over the past years, the Chinese government has provided full scholarships for 40 Bahamian students to study in China, and has provided approximately 100 Bahamian government and professional personnel with various symposiums and seminars in China. In order to meet the needs of the Bahamians in their enthusiasm of learning the Chinese language as well as the Chinese culture, a Confucius Class was set up at The College of The Bahamas in 2009 and, with mutual consent, it will be upgraded to a Confucius Institute. Now both sides are working hard for that and the inauguration is sure to be realized soon.
In areas such as tourism, agriculture, aviation and health, both sides have also conducted useful communication and research. I am sure new progress will be made steadily.
A look ahead
Through the above brief review, it is not hard to see that the past 15 years are 15 years of considerable progress between China and The Bahamas, with mutual trust increased, friendship deepened and cooperation expanded. The past 15 years are 15 years worthy of congratulations for the tangible benefits brought to the two countries and the two peoples. And the past 15 years are 15 years of win-win cooperation, with common development fostered and thus the win-win goal realized.
Looking ahead, both countries are in an important stage for economic and social development, and thus having broad common interests between them. I can foresee a bright prospect for further development in the bilateral relationship and that a lot more can be done in many aspects.
With the in-depth development of economic globalization and the rapid progress of technology, in particular information technology, the world is becoming "smaller and smaller", just like "an earth village". All countries are so intertwined and interdependent. Their interests are fused to such an unprecedented level that the common interests are becoming broader and broader. There are more and more things demanding joint efforts and the desire of mutual cooperation has never been so strong. Such being the case, the world in some sense is becoming a "community of interests", no country can gain development with itself isolated.
As a big responsible developing country, China pursues an independent foreign policy of peace and sticks to a peaceful development road. It has all along dedicated itself to a harmonious society domestically and has initiated an ever-lasting harmonious world internationally.
Over the past 30 years, China has obtained eye-catching achievements with a long-term steady and relatively fast development by opening up and reform - in particular by its strategy of "going global" and "bringing in". By 2010, China had attracted an accumulative amount of US$759.5 billion in foreign capital, ranking first in the world. Meanwhile, the capital Chinese enterprises invested overseas also increased very fast, the amount of which in the year 2010 alone reached up to US$68.8 billion. In 2011, China's total GDP was close to US$7.5 trillion, ranking second in the world. The current foreign exchange reserve had reached over US$3.18 trillion.
Through reform and opening-up, China has not only developed itself but contributed positively to the economic and social development of the rest of the world, thus realizing its goal of common development. Just as Chinese President Hu Jintao put it, China is willing to work together with people from all other countries to share the development opportunities and to cope with all sorts of challenges so that more countries and peoples could benefit from the development of China. The Bahamas is of course included.
In 2011, the relations between China and the Caribbean countries continued to develop. The six measures raised by Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan at the third Forum on China-Caribbean Economic and Trade Cooperation are well received by the Caribbean countries.
Tourism is regarded as the pillar of the Bahamian economy. It is imperative to open up new markets to maintain healthy development of this pillar industry, and China is an ideal choice in this regard. With the continuous growth of the Chinese economy, the number of outbound Chinese visitors is increasing year by year.
In 2011, the number climbed up to a new high of 70.25 million persons, and the Chinese tourists have eyed some leading world tourism destinations that are not well-known in China such as The Bahamas. In 2011, the number of Chinese tourists and business travelers that directly went from China to the U.S. was 1.36 million persons. This year, the number will possibly be close to nearly two million.
Suppose The Bahamas government provides policy convenience for Chinese tourists? It will surely stimulate the tourism industry of The Bahamas. If direct flights between China and The Bahamas can be in place, it will further promote the development of the Bahamian tourism and related industries.
China is a big traditional agricultural country, successfully feeding 20 percent of world's population with only seven percent of the world's arable land. China has the advantage of money and technology while The Bahamas has unused land for agricultural development. If the Bahamians are self-sufficient in agriculture, the living cost will be greatly reduced. So I believe that there's great potential for China and The Bahamas to cooperate in agriculture.
Traditional Chinese medicine has a long history of several thousand years, and it is quite effective to all kinds of diseases, in particular some difficult and complicated cases. The Bahamas has abundant plants that can be used as medicine and some folk prescriptions. If China and The Bahamas can carry out cooperation in this area, bringing in some Chinese medical skills that are less costly yet very effective, such as acupuncture and bone specialty (orthopedics), it will really be good news to the Bahamians.
A good beginning is half a battle. With the good beginning of cultural exchange between the two countries, I am fully convinced that the cultural exchange will develop further together with the increase of contact of personnel between the two countries.
The Bahamas is also a wind and sun rich country while China has advanced skills and capability in wind and solar power. Cooperation in this area will not only reduce the electricity costs of the Bahamian people, but effectively protect the Bahamian environment from being damaged.
I am delighted to feel that it has become a consensus between the government and the general public of The Bahamas to further develop China-Bahamas relations. I am fully confident of the future development of the bilateral relationship and the future prospect of The Bahamas as well. The Chinese side is willing to take the opportunity of the 15th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries to carry on the past and open a way for the future. We will work together with the Bahamian side for more cooperative fields and greater achievements in effort to make more contributions to the two countries and the two peoples as well as the peace and development of the world.
o Hu Shan is the Chinese ambassador to The Bahamas.
I am delighted to be afforded the opportunity to propose the second reading of a
BILL FOR AN ACT TO REPEAL AND REPLACE THE DOG LICENSE
TO REPEAL CERTAIN PROVISIONS OF THE PENAL CODE IN
CONNECTION WITH THE CONTROL AND REGULATION OF DOGS,
The Ministry of Tourism's February 2012 "Islands of The Bahamas Arrivals Report" contains some very useful and informative data on the tourism industry in The Bahamas, and a lot more information on the economic performances of those countries from which our visitors originate.
The report, compiled by the ministry's research department, provides a summary of total visitor arrivals to The Bahamas for the year 2011, in what appears to be a record-breaking total of 5.234 million. That figure is broken down further to show that only 1.29 million of those visitors (or about 25 percent) arrived by air.
There is something troubling about that figure when it is taken into account that about 25 years ago The Bahamas was boasting total air arrivals in the region of 1.5 million. What is more troubling is the fact that we are in the midst of the worst recession ever experienced in a modern Bahamas and the agency which oversees our most important industry appears to be offering no concrete solutions.
Almost 75 percent of the report outlines the economic challenges facing the United States as a result of the crash of the housing market there, and the subsequent financial meltdown. The rise in unemployment, particularly in the northeastern states, is highlighted perhaps to remind us that the reason for the poor performance of our local economy is tied to employment levels in the U.S. It is also noted that Texas, contrary to popular belief, generates more tourists for The Bahamas than many of the northeastern states.
Similar information is provided on Canada and the western European nations whose citizens also visit The Bahamas, although not in such great numbers as the Americans. Again, the intent is presumably to inform us that it is the global slowdown in economic activity that is adversely affecting our visitor arrivals (by air) and consequently contributing to the slow economic growth figures.
Those examples, or more appropriately arguments, would have been more persuasive had we not been made aware from other sources that air arrival tourists were up and growing impressively in our competitor destinations, such as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Cancun, Mexico. Some mention of the costly and perhaps unsustainable subsidies to the industry in the form of 'companion airfare' is given as a successful policy response to the crisis.
For more than half a century tourism has played a pivotal role in the economic development process of this country. It has accounted for most of the foreign direct investment, more than 50 percent of direct and indirect employment, and has provided the necessary level of foreign exchange inflows to not only fund our insatiable import appetite but also to support the important one-to-one peg between the U.S. dollar and the Bahamian dollar.
In other words, unless and until we fix whatever is wrong with our tourism industry (and fix it urgently), the economic and social dislocations currently being experienced in the country will continue unabated. Large numbers of skilled and semi-skilled Bahamians will join the unemployed labor force. Unable to meet their debt commitments, they run the risk of losing their homes and other assets acquired during better times. Unable to provide the needed level of support for their immediate families, the inevitable household tension could rip families apart.
What is needed is a recognition of the importance of the tourist industry to The Bahamas in general and to the partial solution to the current economic crisis in particular. In the short-term, attempts to stimulate other less important parts of the economy or programs to diversify production from our main service provider simply will not create the number or types of jobs sufficient to absorb the unemployed.
The tourism plant, in terms of existing and planned hotel rooms, needs some form of re-tooling to ensure it is functioning at its optimal potential. We know for instance that the costs of labor and utilities are out of line with our competitors, placing the country at a pricing disadvantage. Those areas need to be addressed, perhaps by permitting the hotel operators to produce (hopefully more efficiently) their utility needs rather than relying on the inefficient state-owned corporations.
Above all, we need more air-arrivals since that category of visitor spends more than 10 times what is spent by their cruise counterparts, making a larger contribution to employment and output in the country. The Bahamas at this time in our history needs a fresh, focused and comprehensive plan to increase the number of air arrivals in order to produce the required number of jobs and to begin the process to effectively reverse the unemployment trend.
oCFAL is a sister company of The Nassau Guardian under the AF Holdings Ltd. umbrella. CFAL provides investment management, research, brokerage and pension services. For comments, please contact CFAL at: email@example.com.
Name: Ron Johnson
Position: Culinary artist, Savory Art Culinary & Consultation Service
Guardian Business: Can you briefly describe your experience in the tourism sector and what your role is today?
Ron: I've been a part of the hospitality industry since the age of 16. I was an apprentice chef at the Atlantis Resort & Casino and eventually left my post for educational pursuits. However, during my tenure at the property, I've always felt a strong sense of pride and responsibility ensuring guest satisfaction, simultaneously pleasing my superiors. Whether local or international cuisine was requested, working independently or with a team, contentment was the primary goal. It should be noted that in most areas of people activity, food is involved either in overt or subtle ways.
After attaining my formal educational goals, I've currently been active as a personal/private chef for celebrities, affluent individuals and occasionally working aboard yachts (seven in total thus far), cruising to the Exuma Cays and sometimes Harbour Island, showcasing elements of island flare and other cuisines to the best of my ability. At 31, I would see myself as a culinary ambassador of sorts, particularly to those unfamiliar with tropical cuisine.
GB: Why did you choose to work in tourism as a career?
Ron: At first, the career chose me, along with my mother's stern guidance and foresight. After graduation from high school, I had no idea of what path I would take. I felt idle, without purpose and eager to make a quick buck. I enrolled at The Bahamas Hotel Training College (now called School of Hospitality Training Studies) and found myself performing fairly well, particularly out of fear and love. The fears of letting anybody think I was inadequate were intertwined with my affinity for the profession.
I eventually simmered down and found it was something that I could handle fairly well. It allowed me to be creative with my hands, only limited to what my mind could conceive. A friend told me that certain African tribes believed that your spirit/vibe was transferred into your food creations. I would hope people get an overwhelming sense of love and commitment when they taste what I create.
GB: What has been your most memorable moment?
Ron: Most experiences I've had thus far have their own merit in my life. One in particular, as Montell Williams personal chef aboard a three-week yacht trip throughout the Exuma Cays, still permeates in my memory. Although I've had the pleasure of cooking for him a few times prior to the most recent trip, we had a chance to really have in depth discussions about my future in general and I got to interact on a higher level with his family and staff; they were truly appreciative of what I fed them and the level of professionalism I maintained. Beware of getting too 'familiar' with a guest or client by the way.
Notwithstanding, they were appreciative to the point that they questioned and hesitated dining out on other yachts they got invited on or local restaurants because the precedent I set made them compare my performance; they said it was better than others. The reassuring moment came when he complimented my mother about my professionalism and gave me a hefty 'thank you' gift that made me smile from ear to ear; he personally gave me his contact information as well.
GB: Has the industry changed since you started your career? How?
Ron: Where to begin? I'm a bit at a disadvantage properly responding to this, as my personalized service isolates me to a degree. However, I converse with colleagues and make observations as well. On a side note, the common misperception is that when one sees a chef jacket of sorts, they automatically assume you are employed at a hotel. There are other atypical, unconventional places chefs work at such as stand-alone restaurants and chocolate factories, as well as in positions as personal chefs, food and beverage directors and managers of franchises and supermarkets. The industry has changed in other ways as well to my knowledge. As we are in the Information Age, access to revered techniques, recipes and ideas are easily accessible at the speed of touch and type. I'm also noticing a stronger push for utilizing native grown produce.
GB: What should The Bahamas focus on to stay competitive?
Ron: This is a hard question to answer in that a definite response does not justly address a myriad of issues one may perceive. However, I can speak to factors such as nutrition, redefining and elevating our cuisine and adapting more European culinary disciplines in our forte. Generally speaking, our food is truly tasty and satiating. Tourists from across the globe make an effort to try chowders, stews and souses, fritters, peas n' rice, Bahama Mamas and other local gastronomy. Adversely, our diet impairs our health. Finding creative ways to preserve or create new flavors with an emphasis on wellbeing for the health conscious or apprehensive tourist (or native) is barely exploited.
Lastly, for those with a high appreciation of fine dining, we can improve on presentation and modern techniques; the taste is already there.. I'd like to see a Bahamian restaurant achieve a Michelin Star or three, fully exploiting local produce. That would definitely garner attention to our country and perhaps promote more food-based tourism to a different audience.
Your editorial "Welcome to chaos" only touches the problems at the new Lynden Pindling International Airport. You give attention to the arrival of baggage and the customs procedure. But you do not mention the very long walk (it seems like a mile) from the gate to the immigration hall, with no travelators? Hardly a welcome to visitors or returning residents, who carry heavy bags as carry-ons.
On reaching the arrival hall a band such as Blind Blake's sometimes plays to keep the tourists and others in a good mood. The immigration officers do their best to process arrivals with a big smile. The delay is sometimes slow when three or four planes arrive at once. Sometimes the baggage never arrives on the same plane, a fact you discover only after waiting hours to locate it. Yet technology is supposed to record every bag on the plane. Cannot this same technology advise passengers when their bag is left to come on a later flight and that the airline will arrange delivery to their hotel?
My experience in the customs area has been that tourist arrivals are given preference, and are processed with only minor inspection. If a long wait is experienced it may be caused by the lack of operating conveyer belts. There should be better signs to direct tourists to tourist only customs officer lines, and better management of Bahamas residents only lines, where one person with excess baggage can hold up the line for half an hour.
If The Bahamas is serious about welcoming our visitors and sending them home with happy memories, there is need for an improved system for both arrival and departure for all travelers. We have a new airport, but unless thought is given to the problems of large numbers arriving at the same time, or leaving at the same time, there will be nothing but complaints. What will happen when the 2500 extra rooms on Cable Beach bring more and more travelers at the same time?
Word soon gets around the traveling public. As the retired population increases and enjoys more vacations, the quick trip to The Bahamas will be off their short list when word gets around of the long waits in arrival and departure halls. Senior citizens won't put up with this and may stay at home or choose other destinations. All the money spent on advertising The Bahamas is soon counteracted by such negative publicity and word of mouth.
There must be a better way to process all travelers including the sick, the elderly, the lame and young children. No preference or consideration is given to those travelers, except that airlines offer wheel chairs and preferential boarding. No preference is given to senior citizens proud enough to join the rest of the public. No seats are made available in the customs hall while you wait to be processed or wait for your luggage. Even the lowly auto parts shops have a ticket system so you know how many people are in front of you, so that if there are many you can return to your car, or spend time looking at other merchandise. As for the lame or elderly, if they all took advantage of the complementary wheel chair services even more chaos would result. And why is there not better information on plane arrivals and departures and delays? Surely this should also be posted in the U.S. customs hall. Once in the U.S. customs hall you are a trapped. There is no way out, no way to get to a toilet, nowhere to sit down, and the wait can be over 90 minutes.
The commercial banks give preference to senior citizens, and big commercial customers, and make no profit from doing so. All LPIA travelers are paying good money to travel, and much of that money goes to the government and the Airport Authority and the U.S. government. You cannot blame the airlines.
If The Bahamas has negotiated for U.S. customs and immigration to pre-clear passengers at a cost paid by the traveler of $20.00 or more per person, they should be required to provide a better service. They know the flight schedules. They know the number of persons to process each hour. Yet they limit the number of officers allocated at peak hours, resulting in waits of two hours from the time the electronic ticket is processed by the airlines, to the time you clear U.S. immigration and customs. If the planes decide to wait for passengers delayed in this queue, this is a cost and a disruption to the airline and the various agencies handling passengers, not to mention the delays in the next flights later in the day.
Much is made of new technology. The requirements of the U.S. to have all travelers listed 24 hours before departure so that they can be pre-processed means they have no excuse. There should be a system to weed out suspected persons needing more scrutiny, so that the honest travelers can avoid these long queues.
Don't blame the system of pre-screening passenger luggage and body searches. This works in a reasonable time, and cannot be accelerated when the U.S. immigration and customs line is already starting well behind the entry to their hall. The patient passengers think they will soon be processed, and then find another hour or more in another queue inside the U.S. hall. It is worse than Disney World at peak times. At least they tell you if the wait is half an hour or two hours and you can choose to go or not on the ride.
Why do travelers need to be at the airport 3 hours before departure, then find that the flight is another 2 hours delayed? Five hours wasted before you get on your flight to the U.S.A., sometimes only 25 minutes in the air before arrival in Miami, for example. Again the technology exists to keep passengers advised. We pay $350.00 for a return trip to Miami, 180 miles. yet only $1200 for a return trip to London of at least 9 hours each way.
- Concerned Bahamian resident and traveler
The business community is bracing for the worst as Hurricane Irene sweeps in from the southeast, carrying with it the possibly of financial ruin.
Although the storm isn't expected to strike The Bahamas until Wednesday, for some entrepreneurs, the damage has already been done.
Preben Olesen, the CEO of Port Lucaya in Grand Bahama, said many of the boats docked at his marina have pulled up anchor.
"They were supposed to stay the weekend, and this obviously affects business," he said. "I had other clients who were supposed to come out here this weekend.
"Tourists won't come. Now we're making preparations to possibly leave."
Indeed, businesses across the country are now scrambling to mitigate a possible disaster.
The Director of Cruise Development, Carla Stuart, told Guardian Business that five ships are expected to arrive in Nassau on Wednesday and one on Thursday. Cancellation of these vessels "seems likely", will have considerable ripple affects on the local economy, she said.
"It is expected the port will be closed on Wednesday," she said. "That would be a major loss."
"Definitely it would be a tremendous hit for many different people, be it the tour operations, the restaurants, Atlantis and the Bay St merchants. Even the taxi drivers would lose revenue. There are so many people who would be affected."
Stuart added that there would be a series of emergency meetings over the next 24 hours to determine whether the cancellations are necessary. One Royal Caribbean ship, the Allure of the Seas, has already been re-routed to its final port of call, shifting its arrival into Nassau to Saturday. Carrying approximately 6,400 passengers, she anticipates no loss in revenue, if all goes to plan.
Monarch of The Seas will call on Nassau today, rather than Wednesday. Carnival Pride will make an unscheduled call into Freeport on Wednesday, and Carnival Conquest has cancelled its arrival into Freeport.
"We're watching and monitoring very close," Stuart said. "If this weather continues, then definitely, there will be further changes."
In the meantime, at The Welcome Center, Stuart said shutters are being placed on the windows and sand bags will soon be in place.
Thousands of other businesses throughout The Bahamas are following suit over fears of widespread damage to property.
At press time, the core of Hurricane Irene was moving just to the North of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The maximum sustained winds had increased to nearly 80 mph, and although it was classified as a category one hurricane, the storm is expected to strength considerably over the next 24 hours.
Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and dangerous waves, forecasters said.
David Johnson, the Director General of the Ministry of Tourism, told Guardian Business he's in the process of cutting his holiday short in Tampa Bay so he can be back in The Bahamas to help prepare for the landfall.
A command center has been set up at the British Colonial Hilton to field calls and establish what threat the hurricane could have to the industry.
"I'm making plans to beat the storm in," he said. "We have a national plan and there are various steps we must execute.
"There is an emergency meeting tonight [Monday] to determine the way forward."
Geneva Cooper is the Senior Director in charge of Crisis Management at the Hilton command center. She said the ministry is currently assessing the number of tourists in the country and any potential loss in business.
In San Salvador, she said, there are currently 448 tourists, and at the moment, all of them will be staying put to ride out the storm.
"The administrator on that island is having a preparedness meeting and most will be staying," she added.
Johnson said the hurricane's full impact on the tourism sector, including the scale of holiday cancellations, wouldn't be fully known until Tuesday.
The command center, which is staffed 24-hours a day, is currently checking in with various resorts and ensuring that lines of communication, such as satellite phones, will be reliable once Irene arrives in The Bahamas on Wednesday.
"Much depends on what happens in the next 24-to-12 hours," Johnson said.
How to secure your businessAlthough the initial focus should be on protection of life and property, Winston Rolle, the Chairman of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC), said entrepreneurs must prepare for Hurricane Irene if they want to protect the bottom line.
"You must secure your premises as best you can and ensure your staff aren't in harm's way," he told Guardian Business.
In collaboration with the government, the Bahamas Hotel Association and Planet Now, the BCCEC has contributed to Bahamas Hurricane Preparation (www.bahamashurricaneprep.com), a website intended to help residents, tourists and entrepreneurs brace for severe weather.
From a business perspective, at the top of the list is ensuring you have a back-up power supply. The lights could go out for several days after the storm, the website says, which could dramatically interrupt normal operations.
Installing a generator will go a long way to keeping the business operational.
However, entrepreneurs should prioritize which systems must be kept online in the event of a sustained blackout, whether it be the freezers, sprinklers, lights or alarm systems.
The BCCEC recommends you install the generator in an area that is safe from any potential flooding or high winds.
At the same time, it should also have access to the outside for exhaust.
Another consideration for businesses is the protection of records. Whether it be in electronic form or raw material, steps can be taken to ensure they are safe from loss or damage.
It's a good idea to back-up any information electronically and store it in a secure location.
In terms of insurance, entrepreneurs should keep up to date with their insurance policies, and note that, if you own a home business, the policy at your residence may not cover any damage related to the business.
You may require two policies to ensure complete coverage.
"Overall, the most important thing is to watch the storm carefully and take precautions," Rolle said.
It is imperative that I respond to the remarks made in the article "Some Vendors Spending $100 a Day on Numbers" found in The Nassau Guardian (page A2) dated Friday, November 16, 2012.
I would like to begin by stating that the remarks made by Ron Pinder, the chairman of the Straw Market Authority, are not only ridiculous, but without a doubt fictitious. I want to address a few points mentioned by the chairman.
When you are going to take the straw vendors to the court of public opinion, you must be able to prove allegations being made beyond a shadow of a doubt. In law, he who asserts must first prove. The vendors would like the chairman to prove or show evidence of the persons he claims that he knows, for a fact, are buying numbers on a daily basis. We want this information produced to the media where such allegations have been made.
Many straw vendors are furious that such allegations are being made, some of whom have never bought numbers in their lives. The remarks produced a generalization which is unfair and, in our opinion, dirty and vindictive. This is an attack on the reputation of many and we will not stand by idly and allow it to happen. No way under the sun! Mr. Chairman needs to provide proof or be silent.
It is obvious the chairman is trying to remove any sympathy that may be felt by the current administration. The remark that vendors are operating shops in brick and mortar paying $500 per month is here again being used to make a general statement. This is not applicable to the vendors at large and is being magnified to bring about the chairman's point. A lot of the persons who own shops across the street are non-vendors.
The article states that the arrears last week amounted to $329,000 and after the close down of 54 stalls the arrears decreased to $274,000. He said the amount ranged from $900 to $1,600. Why did execution of this exercise only deal with 54 stalls out of 500 stalls? It means that everybody owes less. If the 54 vendors did not pay a dime from the inception of the opening of the new straw market, the amount due would only be $86,940 (46 weeks x $35 x 54 stalls). This calculation is based on all 54 persons owing $1,610, which we know is not the case because the chairman said between $900 and $1,600 was the range of the vendors affected last week.
We would like Mr. Chairman to provide the media with the accurate amount actually paid by the vendors. From inception, the authority has reason to collect $805,000 (46 weeks x $35 x 500 stalls). When the correct arrears are subtracted, what did the authority really collect?
We are appealing to the minister responsible for the Straw Market Authority for a more transparent system where vendors are not being double billed. It is no wonder; we have such arrears because when vendors try to resolve certain matters, they have no redress. Some vendors are being asked to produce receipts from the inception of which some vendors are not able to find. We have a lot of cases brewing at this moment of vendors who have been double billed for some weeks. This is one of the reasons we believe that the accuracy of the authority's accounting system is questionable.
The real question is what are they spending this money on? Where is it going? It can't be for the running of the Bay Street Straw Market. At certain times during the day, you can't find tissue, hand soap, or hand towel in the restrooms. In addition, the bathrooms are not cleaned on a regular basis. We have lightbulbs that have been blown for quite a while. These are the matters that need to be addressed.
These are the issues we should be discussing. We are not just paying rent to support the administration's highfalutin lifestyle and salaries. I guess the chairman wants to paint a picture that he is working for his money. We will let the truth out. The Straw Market Authority has recently (since July 2012 when they came in office) built about 20 benches-plus costing $500 per bench to build. This information was provided by a contractor. Moreover, they just recently purchased another new vehicle for the chairman to ride around in and important matters are being left undone. It should be noted that the authority already had a vehicle prior to the new purchase.
The new market had a beautiful gazebo which was suppose to be used for tourist entertainment, but the current authority's administration removed it for no apparent reason. We believe a large amount of monies were spent to remove the gazebo. In our opinion, this action was not necessary.
It seems like their priorities are misplaced. We believe they are spending money like a drunken sailor. The chairman now wants to install ceiling fans. Why would someone, soundly, purchase a vehicle and build benches before putting in fans for the shopping comfort of tourists and the work environment of vendors? It is obvious that this group needs guidance. The chairman needs to know that the vendors have intelligence on him also. In addition, Mr. Chairman is conducting himself as if he is untouchable.
In conclusion, I want the chairman of the Straw Market Authority and his administrative team to know that the vendors are sick and tired of the ill treatment being given by him and his team. It is not going to be tolerated. The mandate of this government is "Bahamians First" but it looks like the Straw Market Authority is first.
I repeat, it is important for vendors to pay what is due to the authority for the rental, but they would, also, like the authority to do its part and treat the vendors with respect. There is a great sense of disappointment in this board among the vendors.
We are calling on the minister responsible for the Straw Market Authority to bring his board in line and give them guidance on how to manage the finances for the overall benefit of the industry and the vendors who are affected.
- Rev. Esther Dawkins-Thompson, president, Straw Business Persons Society
Although Nassau is one of the biggest tourism gateways on the planet, it represents just two percent of this country's total land mass.
The Bahamas is barely scratching the surface of the sector's potential, the minister of tourism said, and this year's Caribbean Marketplace 2012 is the ideal time to reveal a national initiative to help tourists discover the islands less traveled.
Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace admitted that The Bahamas has not done a good enough job of telling the world about the Family Islands. With this in mind, as reported first by Guardian Business back in December, the Ministry of Tourism has launched a rebranding campaign to create distinct logos, identities and visible marketing campaigns for these destinations.
"These island groups need their own logo and feel," Vanderpool-Wallace said. "Sometimes the differences between the islands in this country are as different as other English-speaking Caribbean islands."
From a land crab festival in Andros to the Rake and Scrape on Cat Island, a new website, appearing this February, seeks to market these offerings to the world. Vanderpool-Wallace said the news comes as promising December numbers have been released for air arrivals, including a 7.1 percent rise year on year for the country, and a 15.9 percent spike for Grand Bahama.
From a logistics point of view, the minister told Guardian Business domestic carriers will be given an added role in re-routing passengers through Nassau to the islands. The price, he said, will be included all in one fare.
"We are relying on the domestic carriers," he explained. "Tourists can make their reservation and bookings from wherever they are coming from, land in Nassau and transfer immediately. This is a real opportunity for domestic carriers."
The rebranding push comes as welcomed news to the president of the Bahamas Out Island Promotion Board, Shavonne Darville. As a native of Long Island, she said the greatest challenge has been "recognition that we even exist".
"It could have a significant effect on the economies of the islands. In some cases, tourism hasn't played much of a role thus far in their development. The whole aspect of the added monetary side in terms of what the tourism product can offer is tremendous," she told Guardian Business.
In particular, she noted that as more tourists discover the islands, it will perhaps motivate more Bahamians born on those islands to stay and help with the development. An Out Island brain drain has occurred for decades, she said, and with added investment and opportunities, the populations have a better chance to thrive.
Darville anticipates Abaco, with major development on the airport and other residential and resort projects, could see a rise in tourism immediately.
Exuma is another hot destination, partly due to the rise of Emerald Bay, the sparkling new Sandals luxury resort.
Adam Stewart, the CEO of Sandals, attended Caribbean Marketplace yesterday.
Representing $80 million in investment and responsible for a great deal of employment on Exuma, he told Guardian Business the island stands to benefit considerably.
"People don't know where it is. America is just over there, but you say Exuma and they just look at you. We have been pushing, and pushing, and pushing. I think the government has excellent vision and tremendous cooperation," he explained.
Vanderpool-Wallace noted that coordination should be further improved through the creation of the Bahamas Tourism Center on JFK Highway. While a price tag hasn't been assigned to the project, the central idea, he said, is to finally create a one-stop shop for tourism stakeholders to receive information from both the private and public sector.
Caribbean Marketplace 2012, running until the end of today, features hundreds of tourism investors, delegates and stakeholders from around the world.