Bahamas' Covid timeline: Where we are now for travelers

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The clear waters of a Bahamian beach. The Bahamas is entering into a new phase of its reopening strategy.
The clear waters of a Bahamian beach. The Bahamas is entering into a new phase of its reopening strategy.
Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

Covid has dealt a rough hand to most destinations in the Caribbean over the past six months. The Bahamas is one of those destinations, that archipelago of islands, cays and turquoise waters 50 miles off the Florida coast.

Here's a brief recap of the past six months as it relates to Covid's impact on travel to the Bahamas.

March 24: The borders of the Bahamas closed to incoming air and sea travel. A 24-hour curfew took effect. Hotels and resorts closed their shutters and latched their doors. Reopening dates were not even hinted at or predicted.

By May 25: Resorts, airports and seaports were finalizing health and safety protocols for reopening. Prime minister Hubert Minnis hinted at a possible reopening date for commercial travel on July 1, but he amended the forecast by saying that "this date will be adjusted if there is a deterioration of the Covid-19 outbreak or if protocols are not in place to sufficiently warrant an opening."

July 1: the Bahamas began welcoming international travelers. More than 3,000 rooms stood ready to accommodate visitors, and 2,100 more were to join the inventory when sections of Atlantis opened up on July 30. Seven U.S. carriers readied for takeoff from five US gateways.  

July 22: But following an uptick in Covid-19 cases, the Bahamas once again closed its borders to travelers from the U.S., among other countries. Additional restrictions were issued for Grand Bahama, which had recorded 31 of the 49 cases since July 8.

July 26: Just four days later, the decision to close was reversed. U.S. travelers were again allowed entry into the Bahamas. However, all travelers had to present results of a negative Covid-19 taken 10 days or less prior to departure. That ruling was later lowered to five days prior to departure. Also, travelers were now subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine at their own expense in a government facility and were required to take a Covid-19 PCR test at the end of the 14 days, also at their own expense.

On July 31, a more immediate crisis arose: warnings were issued for Hurricane Isaias, a Category 2 storm expected to cross the Bahamas on Aug. 1. Parts of the Bahamas, especially the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama, were especially vulnerable, as they are still recovering from Hurricane Dorian that had pummeled that same area last September.  The storm, fortunately, did no damage.)

In mid-August: The mandatory 14-day quarantine was eased slightly with the ruling that visitors could now quarantine at a hotel, private club, rental accommodations such as Airbnb or on a private boat rather than at a government facility. Also, visitors could leave the Bahamas before the quarantine period ended and did not have to undergo another Covid test prior to departure.

So it's been a long road, for sure.

But on Sept. 7 the picture again began to look a lot brighter when minister of tourism Dionisio D'Aguilar detailed  preparations to enter Phase 3 of the Tourism Readiness & Recovery Plan.

"Our recommendation to the government will be the implementation of  a reopening plan on Oct. 15 for hotels on all islands to resume full operations and the full use of the beaches: a critical component of our tourism product and the No. 1 reason why persons come on vacation to the Bahamas," he said during a press conference.

He explained that the mid-October reopening date would allow the land-based tourism industry to ramp up for the Thanksgiving travel period leading into the peak holiday season. The reopenings would combine with the safety and hygiene protocols already in place and hopefully forestall the need to once again shut borders.

"We can't afford to open and then close down again," D'Aguilar said. "That was traumatic for the tourism sector." He added that it "significantly impacted our relationships with our travel partners," according to the Nassau Guardian.
Tourism director Joy Jibilru announced that immediate marketing plans and ads would target travelers who had earlier indicated through online searches that they want to visit the Bahamas.

Following the U.S. elections on Nov. 3, advertising will ramp up to boost interest in travel during the peak season and beyond.

Related: Let's Go There: Kick-starting travel with the biggest ad blitz since 9/11

Prime Minister Minnis added the last word on Covid during his press conference on Sept. 7.

"We will re-emerge from this battle to restore our country, stronger, together," he said.

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