Tourism Bill withdrawn on consultation worry


Tribune Business Editor

Multiple tourism industry stakeholders yesterday said they had not seen or been consulted on draft legislation that was pulled from House of Assembly debate amid fears it would spark a fall in vacation rental room inventory.

The Bill to place the Tourism Development Corporation on a legal, statutory funding, and facilitate the creation of a Tourism Development Fund, was withdrawn at the last minute for further consultation after concerns were raised by the newly-formed Bahamas Vacation Rental Association about its potential impact.

Theofanis Cochinamogulos, the Association’s interim president, in a March 19, 2023, letter that was addressed to House of Assembly speaker, Patricia Deveaux, along with Obie Wilchcombe, leader of government business, said the Bill had no support from his members because there had been no consultation with the industry.

“Unfortunately, the Bill scheduled for debate tomorrow, Monday, March 20, 2023, lacks the support of the hundreds of vacation rental hosts as there was no consultation with us,” he wrote. “We crave your indulgence, and that of the leader of government business, along with the leader of opposition business, and ask that you suspend debate until the recommendations of our membership can be considered.

“There are sections in this Bill that will result in rooms being pulled off the market at a time when there is a shortage of rooms for tourist visiting our country. We would be obliged to meet as early as this week with the relevant parties to collaborate and co-create a Bill that all stakeholders can lend support to.”

Mr Cochinamogulos declined to detail the vacation rental industry’s concerns, or say much more, when contacted by Tribune Business on the basis that the Association first wanted to develop a proper written position paper. “We’re just looking for some time to get something on paper, and will see how they respond to that,” he added. “They’ve been favourable in doing that and making room for our recommendations.

“We want to address this with the minister and the Tourism Development Corporation, and once we’ve come to a position where we’ve presented something formal we’ll share that with the media. We want to present this and have that discussion.”

The Bill, as presently drafted, would require vacation rentals and other tourism sub-sectors such as excursions, tour operators and heritage sites to register with the Tourism Development Corporation within six months of it becoming law. This would be a second registration process for vacation rentals to undergo as they are already being asked to sign-up with the Department of Inland Revenue by end-April for tax-related purposes.

Vacation rentals were not the only tourism industry segment not consulted on the Bill. Robert Sands, the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association’s (BHTA) president, told Tribune Business he had not seen the proposed legislation despite it being tabled in the House of Assembly several weeks ago.

“I’ve not seen a copy of it,” he said. “I will certainly see if I can get a copy, see what it’s all about and get back to you.” Andoni Lisgaris, president of the Bahamas Excursion Operators Association, said he, too, had “not had a chance to review the Bill, but several of my members said they were not consulted”.

His Association would stand to be impacted by the legislation because, in section (2) (a), it appears that the Tourism Development Corporation will be charged with encouraging companies involved in such activities to become members of a rival group, the Bahamas Association of Shore Experiences (BASE) that would then also be promoted by the Government.

Adrian White, the St Ann’s MP and leader of opposition business in the House of Assembly, was told just minutes prior to the start of yesterday’s brief proceedings that debate on the Tourism Development Corporation Bill would not be proceeding as planned.

“I arrived a roughly ten minutes to 10am, and Obie [Wilchcombe] came over, as leader of government business, and told me they would not be continuing with the debate today,” Mr White said. “There were a couple of reasons, and one was they felt further consultation was needed.”

He added of the present Bill: “It’s going to be a significant change to the tourism industry where a number of participants in the sector working in collaboration under the respective Promotion Boards.... this not only appears to take the funding being raised by the Promotion Boards, it also imposes registration requirements and criteria to meet certain standards; carry the banner, so to speak, a seal of approval.”

While acknowledging the need to ensure all Bahamas-based tourism operators provide products and services at a standard that aligns with the destination’s image and market positioning, Mr White queried if the Bill’s registration demands threaten to add another layer of government bureaucracy and red tape that will further burden local businesses.

“It’s not just registration, but you’d probably need to have your approvals from each agency on an annual basis so you can operate in a particular year,” he said. “Once you have established your business, and have a Business Licence in place, you want the Government to stay out of it.... The Government is now stepping in and that should be a last resort.”

Tribune Business sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, yesterday suggested that the Government may simply have picked up a draft Bill and brought it forward without the legislation undergoing the normal vetting procedures by parliamentary draftsmen and the like in the Attorney General’s Office.

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