Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
ABOUT 50,000 people bought travel health visas to enter The Bahamas in December, suggesting arrivals declined by more than 90 percent compared with December 2019 despite relaxed entry requirements.
Tourism Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar said 35,000 of the visa applicants were visitors while the remaining were returning citizens and residents.
The low travel numbers come amid international reports the United States may require all people entering that country from international destinations to present a negative COVID-19 test. If this is implemented, the tourism minister said this would have a significant impact on The Bahamas’ tourism industry.
“I have to say,” he said about the arrival numbers, “that in speaking to hotel operators and travellers when visiting properties over the holiday seasons, they all were impressed with how well the system was working. The response time is within 24 hours or less. In speaking to them, they expressed how safe they are in The Bahamas, that our protocols made them feel safe and they had a wonderful holiday and were happy to follow the protocols to enjoy the holiday.”
He added: “The Bahamas attracted higher end foreign visitors during the Christmas seasons. If you speak to facilities that cater to higher dollar travellers, they seemed to have had a very good Christmas. For those that cater to middle income travellers, it wasn’t as robust as they had necessarily wanted it to be.”
More than 710,000 people arrived in the country in December 2019. Mr D’Aguilar said 20,485 people bought health visas to enter the country in November.
Mr D’Aguilar also reacted to a report by Aviation International News, which said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to expand pre-departure COVID-19 testing requirements to all passengers arriving to the United States from international destinations.
The report followed a meeting the National Business Aviation Association had with the CDC and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Mr D’Aguilar said The Bahamas will be significantly affected if the US requires that people obtain a PCR test result for entry.
“The impact that would have on tourism would initially be very significant,” he said. “First of all, it would be an impediment to travel. A lot of people will decide it’s not worth it, getting a test to go and come back. The tests alone would cost travellers $300 to $400. The second issue is that it would put significant load on our testing facilities in The Bahamas. There are no PCR testing facilities in the Family Islands at all.”