NASSAU, The Bahamas – It is the intention of the Government to make centres of craft, souvenirs and creative products made by Bahamians the centre stage of the tourism product. The Hon. Alfred Sears, Minister of Works and Utilities, underscored this point as he addressed a press conference to officially announce the reopening of straw markets.
“The government will continue to invest in our markets so that they are the centre, not the periphery, not on the side, but the very centre of the attractions that are offered to our visitors in this country,” said Minister Sears.
“Yes, the hotels, the wonderful cruise ships and the other amenities, but we want the markets of our country to be the platform to display and to set the creative products of the Bahamian creative imagination.”
The conference was held Monday, November 22, at the Bay Street market. It was attended by: the Hon. Bacchus Rolle, Parliamentary Secretary; Luther Smith, Permanent Secretary; Reginald Saunders, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Investments and Aviation (MOTIA); Gregory Butler, Deputy Permanent Secretary; Elaine Simms, Managing Director, Straw Market Authority; officials from the Ministry of Tourism, Investments and Aviation; Ministry of Works (MOW) and representatives of straw market federations.
The Downtown market was buzzing Monday as vendors arranged displays, tourists browsed and construction work continued on an infirmary and bathrooms. The straw markets — including, Forts Charlotte and Fincastle, Paradise Island, Bay Street and Cable Beach reopened some 22 months after closing due to COVID-19 pandemic protocols.
Minister Sears emphasized it was a priority for the markets throughout the country to reopen.
He said, “The money that they make, those profits are not repatriated to another country. That money is spent here educating their children, spending on their mortgages, supporting their families. This is the measure of the reopening of the economy.”
The Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) has proposed a number of protocols to ensure that the markets are safe.
Minister Sears explained the provisional measures including a rotation between groups A and B for the 360 vendors.
“Whatever we do we have to do [it] in consultation with MOHW but we are listening to the stakeholders who have put forward certain recommendations.
“These are provisional transitional measures during a global pandemic. As the health officials indicate to us that it is safe to go back to a more liberal and more open infrastructure, we will do so.”
Minister Sears informed that safeguards including temperature checks and sanitization stations will be a part of the culture throughout the market to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Weekly antigen testing is required by vendors.
He thanked the offices of the straw vendors’ federations for their cooperation and close collaboration with the MOW to achieve a reopening date. He also acknowledged stakeholders including MOHW, MOTIA, the police, the fire department, for the “extraordinary” collaboration.
Ms. Simms noted the Department of Environmental Health began the process of exterminating all of the markets in 2020. She said washing stations and temperature check facilities among others were installed at entrances.
Moreover, she informed that a major requirement for vendors and staff was to undergo CPR/first aid training and training by the MOTIA.
Mr. Rolle said it gives the Ministry great pleasure to ensure that over 300 self-employed individuals are able to return to work after 20 months without an income.
“We have staggered seating, alternate days, proper sanitization and security. This is not the end, this is the beginning. We anticipate that in the coming weeks and months we will evolve into what we want it to be. We continue to push that to ensure that we get to our final destination,” he added.