By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
TOURISM Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said yesterday that visitor arrivals to The Bahamas are increasing “every month” after 64,047 non-residents bought travel health visas to the country in April.
This represents about a six percent increase from the month before, however the travel numbers are far below pre-pandemic levels.
According to the latest data released by tourism officials, in November 2020, 13,994 foreign visitors bought travel health visas; 32,061 foreign visitors made visa purchases in December 2020; 20,768 did in January 2021 and 28,425 did in February.
March saw 60,497 people purchasing the travel visas, while April had 64,047.
However, this comes after a recent Central Bank report revealed that total foreign arrivals in the country declined by nearly 80 percent in March.
Speaking to reporters outside Cabinet yesterday, Mr D’Aguilar said while the numbers are still a far cry from what the country saw prior to COVID, the figures indicate that The Bahamas is making some progress.
However, he also noted it will take some time before the nation fully recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The good news is the number of foreign arrivals (is) increasing every month so it’s heading in the right direction. The bad news is it’s still 20, 30, 40 percent of what it used to be,” he said before going to a Cabinet meeting.
“So, I think it’s always important to put in perspective that we are nowhere (near our) 2019 numbers and that’s understandable and we’re still in the throes of this pandemic and it’s going to take time as persons get vaccinated and feel safe enough to travel for them to think about a holiday.
“But, I could say the numbers are ever increasing and persons are obviously interested in a warm weather destination and they’re choosing the Bahamas but it’s still going to take some time for us to get back where we used to be but the good news is it’s heading in the right direction.”
According to the country’s latest travel amendments, fully vaccinated visitors who have passed the two-week immunity period are now allowed entry to The Bahamas without having to take a COVID test.
Fully vaccinated travellers are also exempted from testing requirements when travelling domestically from New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco, Exuma and Eleuthera to any other island.
Asked if officials have seen an uptick in travel applications since the latest travel announcements, Mr D’Aguilar replied that it’s still too early to tell.
He told reporters: “So, if I look at the health visa as an indicator and the number of applications that we’re receiving every day, that number is ever increasing so while it’s too early to tell (as) we’re only on day four, I think the indication is that more and more people are applying for a health visa based on the fact that they’re vaccinated.
“What is interesting is once people have gotten vaccinated, they want to get ahead of the decision to travel or not to travel to the Bahamas and they’re making applications for health visas months in advance and that’s begging to add traffic to the application process.
“We are not there yet but once you have determined to be vaccinated, every time you apply for a health visa, the system will look to see that you have been vaccinated and your vaccination records have been vetted and you’ll be automatically approved for travel, thereby reducing the need to check every single travel request as they come into the country.”
In an interview with The Tribune on Sunday, Mr D’Aguilar raised concern about the possibility of people uploading false vaccination documents, given the fact that many US states and other countries use different vaccination cards.
However, yesterday he reiterated that officials are currently working on a method to ensure visitors are not seeking to enter the country by fraudulent means when applying for travel health visas.
“But, for the time being, we think that the records that people are presenting are genuine and we’re just developing a mechanism on how best to validate that,” he added.