Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
TOURISM Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said 20,485 people bought travel health visas to enter the country last month as border restrictions were relaxed to encourage tourism amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s the first month,” he told The Tribune yesterday. “Nothing was really open. Some of that 20,485 were citizens and residents.”
The number of arrivals for November contrasted sharply with the number of arrivals in November 2019. That month, there were 618,854 foreign arrivals, according to figures from the Ministry of Tourism.
All travellers are required to have a travel health visa to enter the country.
“(Arrivals are) going to be down enormously,” Mr D’Aguilar said. “I expect more arrivals this month. To restart your tourist product you need hotels and airlift and more is coming on stream this month. We have to create demand for an increase, but that has to be tempered by what’s happening in the United States.”
Just last week, the US recorded more than 3,000 COVID-19 deaths in a single day for the first time as that country wrestles with a surge in cases.
Mr D’Aguilar also confirmed a systems issue on Saturday prevented people from accessing features of the travel health visa portal.
He said Saturday morning, officials responsible for government technological services tried to do “some routine work that unfortunately culminated in the need to shut down the service and reboot it.”
He said: “When they did that at 3am in the morning, the communications link between the platform and payment portal got broken. Because no one knew, it took a while for programmers to figure out and correct the problem and the correction did not take place until 9pm last night (Saturday).
“We had to go to a manual process until we sorted out the problem. Everyone is trying to figure out what went wrong and why it took so long. Technology is great when it works, but it is a bloody nightmare when it doesn’t.”
Mr D’Aguilar said he indicated to officials that this is a “very sensitive time for the country and they should be careful when taking these unplanned actions.” He could not say how many people were affected by the shutdown .
“Yesterday was an extremely trying day,” he said. “Everybody who applied after 9pm last night, the process was back to normal. I’m advised things are back to normal and I’m sure they are all now finding out why it took so long. I think everybody is sensitive to the fact that if this programme isn’t working people can’t get into the country and it’s a massive inconvenience.”