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 Bahamas Commentary

2005-12-30 16:47:10

Failing To Grasp Damage To Country

The reputation of the Bahamas was at stake as a crescendo of angry voices vowed they would never return to such a rinky-dink, third world town again.

SOME YEARS ago we heard an interesting speech given to a group of Rotarians by Paul O'Neil, at that time president and managing director of the Atlantis resort.

The gist of his talk was that no matter how good Atlantis was, no matter how much money the company spent on making the resort the best in the world, if one of their guests had a bad experience outside of their complex, it could destroy all of their efforts. In other words unless and until every Bahamian realised that it was important that each and every one of them made a contribution to this country's number one industry -- if only with a pleasant smile - then all Atlantis' efforts and that of the island's other resorts would have been in vain.

This is a concept that even members of government have failed to grasp.

When Nassau International Airport's radar eventually collapsed early Monday morning, bringing all movement at the airport to a standstill and stranding thousands of passengers on both sides of the Gulf Stream, no government official could be found for either advice or information.

No wonder airline managers are angry and demand answers. They are responsible for their passengers. However, over the weekend they could give passengers neither information on what was happening nor advice on whether they should remain at the airport or go back to their hotels. Passengers' loudest complaint was that they could get no information. And so airline staff were being bombarded for news that they did not have.

Where was the Airport Authority? Transport Minister Glenys Hanna Martin had a sudden death in her family on Christmas day and was understandably out of circulation, but surely this did not cripple her whole department.

Airline managers realise that unhappy customers mean loss of future business for their airlines. But their hands were tied.

The reputation of the Bahamas was at stake as a crescendo of angry voices vowed they would never return to such a rinky-dink, third world town again. And they would certainly pass the word on to their friends.

Prime Minister Christie was at junkanoo during the crisis. As a former Valley Boy, this festive activity is close to his heart. We were told that the radar was being repaired, and that Mr Christie was being kept informed. What more could he do?

It is probably a safe guess that he would have been the first to have been informed of the airport's problems. He should have realised the chaos that would have followed and delegated someone with authority to organise assistance to visitors who were stranded. Hoteliers tell us that they had no idea what was happening until it was too late. As many of their guests had not arrived because of the airport fiasco, they had spare rooms that could have been made available at bargain prices - if only someone had contacted them.

Meantime the Bahamas' reputation as the region's number one resort was haemorrhaging. Of course, we all know how Rome burned, while Nero fiddled. This country's reputation, like Rome, was in flames. Anyone who has been to the airport knows how unsatisfactory the toilet facilities are at NIA at the best of times. One can only imagine what they were like over the weekend with hundreds of people milling around.

Before the day was out, the one small restaurant had run out of food and drink. Meanwhile managers at Atlantis resort knew that the country's reputation was hanging in the balance, which meant that their whole investment was in jeopardy. What could they do to help? When told of the situation, George Markantonis, who has replaced Paul O'Neil as president and managing director of Atlantis, immediately mobilised his staff.

The hotel's room service team made 500 finger sandwiches, which, with two cases of fresh oranges, 100 pints of ice cream and 20 cases of water and sodas were loaded into a Ministry of Tourism representative's vehicle and an Atlantis vehicle and driven to the airport at 1.45 am Tuesday. Atlantis also offered 58 rooms for one night free of charge, which accommodated 200 guests. One hundred passengers opted to stay at the airport because luggage was in such confusion that they were afraid of losing theirs.

This country, if it could get its priorities right, would realise that unless we all chip in to protect our tourist business, it could disappear overnight. It should give the Minister of Tourism nightmares to realise how many visitors have been lost - many forever - because of faulty radar, and a bad weekend experience that could have been turned in our favour with the right management skills.
Unfortunately, knowing how politicians think, we will wager that at the moment, instead of considering the country, many of them are now trying to figure out how they can cover their own political hides.

Editorial from The Tribune; Nassau, Bahamas

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