Wednesday, March 22, 2023
By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
THE DEPUTY Prime Minister yesterday pledged there will be full consultation over the Tourism Development Corporation (TDC) Bill after it was withdrawn from House of Assembly debate following an outcry by the private sector.
Chester Cooper, also minister for tourism, investments and aviation, confirmed ahead of the weekly Cabinet meeting that the legislation was pulled back because there was a request for further consultation by multiple tourism industry stakeholders.
Speaking specifically to the concerns of the newly-created Bahamas Vacation Rental Association (BVRA), Mr Cooper added: “This letter comes from a young man who has represented that he is the president of the BVRA. I can confirm that he did have a meeting with the TDC. He indicated to us that he wanted to make some further contributions and that he didn’t have the time to do so. He asked for more time, and therefore we granted that time.
“So it’s a non-issue. We’re open to consultation. We support the private homeowners renting their homes through Airbnb or VRBO, or whichever platform they choose to use. This is our fastest way of increasing our room inventory. So we’re encouraging it. It’s an opportunity for Bahamians to invest in the tourism industry and therefore we look forward to speaking with them further.”
Pledging his support for the vacation home rental business, Mr Cooper said the Bill is intended as a way of “empowering Bahamians to revolutionise the product”, and that it will create linkages between tourism and other sectors of the Bahamian economy that have been much talked about for decades.
Mr Cooper added: “I don’t want to focus too much narrowly on a letter sent to us by an individual. I’ll focus on a broader approach to ensuring that all of the stakeholders are aware of the full details of the Bill. That they understand that this Bill is designed to uplift entrepreneurs.
“We have some exciting projects in the pipeline. We believe that tourism linkages will come through innovation and incubation. And we’re going to have the discussion with this gentleman and anyone else who wishes to have a discussion in relation to this Bill before it comes back to Parliament, and that’s our commitment to doing.”
Tribune Business, though, reported that 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 this newspaper 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”.
Theofanis Cochinamogulos, the Bahamas Vacation Rental 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.”
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