Brent Symonette Questions Need For Souvenir Imports

Monday 01st, November 2010 / 08:32 Published by

Louise Lifetime straw vendor Louise ‘Titta’ Bullard, 98, was the special guest of honour during last weekend’s BahamArts Festival. Although she is blind, Ms Bullard, originally from Mangrove Cay, Andros, mastered the 15 and 11-string weave, among others. Here favourite style is the peas an’ rice using white top palm and coconut straw. Ms Bullard is pictured being presented with her award by Bahamas National Craft Association president Martha Hanna-Smith. Also pictured are Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Lawrence S ‘Larry’ Cartwright (centre) and BAIC executive chairman Edison M Key. (BIS photo/Patrick Hanna)

Acting Prime Minister T Brent Symonette has questioned the need to continue importing souvenir items for tourists who visit The Bahamas.

“When we spend hundreds of millions of dollars importing souvenir items, that might not be the smartest way of doing business as we go forward,” he said during last weekend’s BahamArts Festival at the Arawak Cay Culture Centre.

“The products here displayed are of an extremely high quality. We as Bahamians are capable of creating art and craft of a quality that can be sold world wide.”

This year’s BahamArts Festival, a production of the Handicraft Development and Marketing Department of Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation, brought together more than 100 of the top artisans from throughout the islands.  The Ministry of Tourism’s annual Authentically Bahamian Show is set for December.

Mr Symonette, substantively the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said it was “truly refreshing to see the wonderful artistic creations” on exhibit.  They were even the more significant as they were Bahamian made from things Bahamian, he added.  Some estimates put to $300 million the value of souvenirs and craft imported into the country, marked up, and resold to tourists and residents.

“It is fairly easy then to see what an art and craft industry can add to our economy,” said Mr Symonette.

He noted that the new Straw Market downtown Nassau is nearing completion.

“When we spend hundreds of millions of dollars importing souvenir items, that might not be the smartest way of doing business as we go forward.

“We are a very small country by international standards,” said Mr Symonette.

“We are competing in a competitive world and we have to strive to succeed.

“We have to understand that our tourists have the ability to buy products anywhere in the world.

“So we have to show them our culture. We have to show them the products we can produce and introduce them to the Bahamian things.

“After all, it is your money that is rebuilding that Straw Market. So why shouldn’t we display, distribute and sell our goods.”

He noted there were Bahamian vendors being held in New York, accused of violating trade laws.

“I trust that we will learn from that experience,” he said, “and produce things truly Bahamian because no other country is capable of displaying Bahamian artifacts and art and culture like Bahamians.”  He urged vendor to capitalise on the unique Bahamian style and go international.

“Let us think of endless possibilities,” he said.

“We have to stop being modest in our production. We have to think big and move international. We must embrace things here in our Bahamas that are unique.”

He thanked the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for “their commitment of support they have shown us.”

This week application a $500,000 IDB grant was launched. It will be used over the next two years to create a virtual marketplace for Bahamian craft products on the World Wide Web.

“With over 7 billion people in the world, now is the time to take our creativity and go into cyber space,” he said.

By Gladstone Thurston
Bahamas Information Services

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