Health visa reforms ‘remove the friction’


Pedro Rolle


Tribune Business Editor


Family Island hotel and business executives have hailed the travel visa’s removal for inter-island trips as “removing a lot of the friction” that was hindering domestic tourism and commerce.

Pedro Rolle, the Exuma Chamber of Commerce president, told Tribune Business that the relaxation unveiled on Friday by Dr Michael Darville, minister of health and wellness, was “a huge boost” given that it also eases COVID-19 testing requirements.

Besides abolishing the health travel visa for inter-island travel, the newly-elected Davis administration is stipulating that fully vaccinated travellers from New Providence and Grand Bahama only have to provide evidence of a negative rapid antigen approved by the Ministry of Health prior to boarding the plane or vessel.

Unvaccinated travellers from these two islands will still have to produce a negative PCR test, but persons coming from all other islands will only have to produce a rapid antigen test. And the requirement for secondary testing of all inter-island travellers has also been abolished.

Revealing that he personally has had to spend several thousand dollars on obtaining COVID-19 PCR tests since the pandemic began, just so he could travel between Exuma and Nassau, Mr Rolle told this newspaper: “The PCR test ranges between $200 and $280, and the latter is basically more than the price of a round-trip ticket from Exuma to Nassau.

“I believe I’ve spent somewhere in the vicinity of $1,500 to $2,000 over the last eight to nine months, or the last year, on PCR tests. That’s quite a lot of money to spend on testing, and that has discouraged a lot of travel. I’ve always felt that was a little burdensome and not always necessary.

“This will incentivise it, and hopefully in a responsible way. At least now I think we can do the testing, and if they just require rapid antigen tests, the rate of testing will capture most of the people before they travel. I’m excited as to the change of policy as it relates to the testing, and travel to and from Exuma.”

Mr Rolle predicted that the reformed COVID-19 health travel protocols will further spur domestic tourism between Nassau and Exuma and other islands, and result in spin-off benefits for Family Island real estate and other sectors.

“Since we had COVID-19, over the last 18 months I think there was a period where domestic travel essentially sustained us,” he added. “As persons start to come to Exuma from Nassau, they like they’ve been here once, it’s not as bad as they thought, so they come again. They’re now asking about and investing in real estate.

“That’s a big impact. We cannot diminish the impact of domestic tourism on Exuma. It’s not impacting just car rentals and hotels when they do come; it’s impacting real estate. I’m thinking the same thing is happening in places like Eleuthera and Cat Island. More and more people are going back to the islands, especially if they have family ties.”

Kerry Fountain, the Bahamas Out Island Promotion Board’s (BOIPB) executive director, told Tribune Business the impact from the Government’s easing of COVID-19 testing and protocols for inter-island travel will be “huge” once his members start to re-open their hotels in mid-October through November.

“It removes a lot of the friction and lessens the cost of travel,” he said. Mr Fountain added that eliminating the inter-island travel visa would also enable those processing international travellers to spend more time on those applications thereby speeding up the process.

This, he explained, was critical to reviving tourism from Canada and Europe. Mr Fountain said The Bahamas is now well-poised to capitalise on US president, Joe Biden’s, decision to re-open US borders to international travel as this will enable Europeans and Canadians to use Florida and other states as a hub to get to this nation.

“I definitely applaud it,” Mr Fountain added. “I’m not just looking at it from a hotel standpoint. It should be a boost for domestic airline carriers, who have been struggling. The only thing I would like to see is more Bahamians getting vaccinated.”

The Out Island Promotion Board chief said president Biden’s policy that all incoming adult travellers to the US be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 would likely spur more Bahamians to get vaccinated, given the need to travel there on business, for medical purposes and school, to visit relatives and for Christmas shopping.

And he revealed that he was “anxious” for the Government to provide free COVID-19 testing, as it had promised during its election campaign, so that it relieves his member hotels of the need to conduct mandatory testing of staff every seven to 14 days as required by the Ministry of Health.

The COVID-19 health travel visa and testing reforms were more ‘low hanging fruit’ that the Government was able to alter rapidly and deliver on some of its campaign promises.

Dionisio D’Aguilar, former minister of tourism and aviation, who had urged the new administration not to alter the health travel visa, told this newspaper yesterday that the only changes to international travel were the removal of the fee and fifth-day secondary testing for all unvaccinated Bahamian citizens and residents.

He declined to comment further, other than to say “they were clearly advised by the health professionals that it was fine to make the change”.


rodentos 1 year, 8 months ago

Health "visa" should be abolished completely. Test result check during checkin is sufficient in 99.9% of the world, why not here.


mirkovonkovats@gmail.com 1 year, 8 months ago

Absolutely.$10 m useless expenses. Where’s the money going? Nobody or better almost nobody needs that.


Alan1 1 year, 8 months ago

The Health Visa for international travellers has to be abolished immediately if we are to see any uptake in visitor arrivals. It is expensive and cumbersome and most people can go to nearly all other southern destinations without all our hassles. We are getting left behind and this is badly affecting the economy and jobs.


rodentos 1 year, 8 months ago

last time I had to fly back from Miami I uploaded my test result on Fri about 3pm and did not get the health visa back until Monday late afternoon - for a flight Tuesday at 10AM. What the heck are they thinking? Absolute mismanagement.


DWW 1 year, 8 months ago

sure. we all got waxxed right?


Sign in to comment