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Over 125,000 Applications For Travel Health Visas In The Past Four Months

Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.

Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.

By LEANDRA ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

lrolle@tribunemedia.net

OVER 100,000 people have applied to the Ministry of Tourism for travel health visas to enter The Bahamas over the past four months, Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said yesterday.

While giving his mid-year budget contribution in the House of Assembly, Mr D’Aguilar said the travel numbers include both visitors and returning residents and added that officials are expecting to see an uptick in the months ahead.

“For the past four months, we have received over 125,000 travel applications from both visitors and returning residents. Since the New Year, we are averaging over 2,000 each day,” he told Parliament.

“And, each month, Mr Speaker, the number of visitors applying for health visas is slowly increasing. In November, our first month of reopening there were 14,000 visitors who applied. In December, there were 32,000 visitors who applied. In January, there were 21,000 who applied, a decrease caused by President Biden’s announcement that quarantining for persons returning to the United States from travel abroad was being contemplated, an idea that was later dismissed.

“In February, there were over 28,000 that applied. And for March, I estimate that close to 45,000 visitors will apply for a health visa given that Easter falls at the end of this month and the hotels are reporting healthier bookings. So, as you can see, Mr Speaker, the visitors are slowly returning, still a far cry from the 150,000 per month we were receiving pre COVID, but increasing every month.”

And with the re-opening of several hotel properties across the country, Mr D’Aguilar said officials are feeling more optimistic that things in the tourism sector are improving.

He said: “Atlantis re-opened on December 10, Baha Mar and the Hilton followed shortly thereafter, Sandals Exuma opened at the end of February, and just last week the Rosewood and SLS have opened.

“The gears of the tourism machine—for many months ground to a halt—are churning once again, albeit not on all cylinders. But the pistons are beginning to fire, and we are moving closer to returning to the glory days of Bahamas tourism.”

His comments came as the country received its first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine yesterday, a gift from the Indian government. Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis told reporters that people will begin receiving the vaccines next week after a weekend of trials.

With the roll-out of vaccination campaigns both in the country and abroad, Mr D'Aguilar said he expects that more visitors will want to travel here.

Yesterday, the minister also announced his intentions to take the COVID-19 vaccine and urged his constituents in Freetown as well as other Bahamians to do the same, insisting the revival of the country’s leading industry is “dependent “on it.

He said: “I predict, Mr Speaker that visitor arrivals will progressively improve during the course of this year culminating with a good Christmas when hopefully, all of The Bahamas and all of our core source markets like the US, Canada and the UK, will have been mostly vaccinated and the pent demand for travel will have been unleashed.”

“…Our country, the revival of our critical tourism industry, employment, incomes is dependent on tourism and tourism, trust me, is dependent on people getting vaccinated. So, please, my fellow Bahamians get vaccinated.”

He suggested that only when the country has vaccinated most of the population against the virus, then will more restrictions be eased.

He said officials are confident in the current COVID-19 travel protocols in place, pointing to the low number of infections and hospitalisations recorded in the last several weeks.

“On most days, the number of positive cases is less than five percent of those tested. I am advised by the health professionals that if five percent or less of the persons tested are positive, we have a handle on things,” he told Parliament. "And, on most days, I note that there are less than 20 persons in hospital for COVID – a far cry from August and September when the number of persons hospitalised for COVID was over 100 and we were building additional hospital beds."

He also sought to address complaints made about the ministry’s travel health visa, a protocol that has not been welcomed with open arms by some visitors and locals.

He added: “Despite these numbers, despite the 125,000 air arrivals we have seen since November, and despite the fact that the number of COVID-19 cases brought about through tourism have been virtually non-existent, there is very sadly, and regrettably, a strong vocal minority—of both Bahamians and foreigners alike—campaigning to make you feel that the health visa is hurting our tourism product.

“It is definitely an impediment to travel but let me be clear and direct - since the onset of COVID-19, my ministry’s top priority has been to navigate this crisis in such a way that balances the public health and safety of all Bahamian citizens and residents first whilst also ensuring the safe re-opening of our tourism sector.

“…When we made the decision to extend the existing safety measures instead of relaxing entry guidelines, we did so to prevent placing an overwhelming strain on our healthcare systems and practitioners. Quite simply, we were looking after our own, and protecting our Bahamian tourism product such that we would have an industry to welcome tourists back to in the future.”

Comments

bahamianson 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Yeah, i am one of them , my son, and my brother (three times) , so stop deceiving the public. You are.trying.to make people believe that that number represents tourist's interest in the bahamas. That number represents bahamians as well. Well done , minister.

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tribanon 6 months, 2 weeks ago

D'Aguilar has always been and always will be a most deceitful weasel of the highest order. And he has never had nor will he ever have an ounce of common sense. The voters in his constituency need to do the right thing by all of their fellow Bahamians and vote for anyone but D'Aguilar in the next general election or not vote at all.

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John 6 months, 2 weeks ago

With the US passing its largest ever, TRILLION DOLLAR, relief and recovery package, (they are no longer calling it a stimulus package) the tourism sector should be a buzz trying to capture some of those funds by advertising and promoting future bookings to The Bahamas. And with guarantees that if travel plans have to be changed or canceled, there will be minimal or no penalties.

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Bigrocks 6 months, 2 weeks ago

So, how many of these visa can they handle in a month before the system crashes? Believe you have 3 days to get tested, get the results to health / Av depts, then they have to get that visa approval to you to get on the plane. If that is correct, that means day 1 you get tested. Day 2 hopefully you get your negative results and email it to the Government.. Day 3 you board the flight to Bahamas.

So, if all that is correct, and many flights to here start early to mid morning (not to mention 2 hours pre flight departure time for chk in at the plane airport, the question arises is how many visas can they turn around with maybe a 24 hour timeframe so one can board the plane?

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Alan1 6 months, 2 weeks ago

Despite the comments of The Tourism Minister most prospective visitors cannot comply with the current requirement of being on the ground in Nassau within five days of taking the test. Finding a test centre for a healthy person to take the more complicated Covid19 PCR test is the initial problem. This is likely without charge for U.K. and Canadian people with the government healthcare system. However it is harder there to get an appointment as leisure travel is the lowest priority for giving tests. For Americans who are our largest number of visitors the cost of the test can be anywhere from $200 upwards which is a deterrent to travel. Moreover everyone has to wait for a result which is often two days. I have been told that the nuisance of filling out forms and scanning them with the test result to Nassau for the Health Visa is another cumbersome hassle and no certainty exactly how long it takes to get permission to travel. Then taking flights to Nassau,especially if connecting flights are involved, takes time and for many it is impossible to arrive within five days. So with the uncertainties prospective visitors are looking elsewhere where it is easier to gain entry. There have been so many complaints about these difficulties but The Minister and staff have stubbornly refused any common sense solutions such as extending the entry time from five to seven or ten days or visitors being allowed to bring test results with them. As a result the hotels remain mostly empty and unemployment at unacceptable levels. Having frightened the public about admitting visitors- even after they have had tests- has been counterproductive. Until the entry rules to our country are eased tourism will never return to previous levels. It is difficult enough for land visitors to enter. It is ridiculous to think that cruise visitors would be prepared to complete all these rules just to have sightseeing tours from their ship. What market research was ever done before these unrealistic rules were introduced? It does not appear that these policies were well thought out.

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