Tourist visits to the Bahamas have decreased by nearly 5 percent this fiscal year as the global recession batters the vast Atlantic archipelago's key industry, the prime minister announced Wednesday.
Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, who is also the islands' finance minister, told legislators that visitor arrivals have diminished by 4.5 percent during the 2008 fiscal year, which concludes next month. The drop extends a nearly 3 percent decrease in fiscal 2007 compared to the previous fiscal year.
"We are currently experiencing a severe downturn in our economy in a most extreme form," said Ingraham, adding that reduced tourism and foreign investment were lowering living standards on the island chain of 310,000 inhabitants.
Preliminary data for the first four months of 2009 shows air arrivals decreasing by 15.5 percent over the same period last year, exacerbated by carriers eliminating flights within the region.
Several big resorts in the Bahamas have announced steep layoffs or reduced workers' hours. On Tuesday, the Four Seasons Resort Great Exuma at Emerald Bay, which opened in 2003, was shuttered.
Ingraham put the job losses in the tourism sector at roughly 2,200, bringing the islands' unemployment rate to about 12 percent.
The prime minister called on legislators to find the correct balance between fiscal constraint and funding needed for government programs during upcoming budget negotiations.