By Lindsay Thompson
The Travel Health Visa that was implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic, would no longer be required for Bahamians and residents entering The Bahamas, effective December 13, 2021. Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Tourism, Investments and Aviation the Hon. Chester Cooper announced this in the House of Assembly on Wednesday, December 8, 2021.
The previous administration implemented a travel health visa that required every traveler into New Providence and throughout most of the islands, to fill out an online questionnaire and pay a fee to obtain that visa to enter the country, with additional fees depending on length of stay. However, due to public outcry and concerns regarding the technical reliability of the system and fees attached to obtaining the visa, the Davis Administration has deemed it no longer a requirement.
“I repeat as of Monday December 13, no travel health visa required for Bahamians and Residents of The Bahamas,” the minister said. He explained that on December 5 and 6, the processing of the Bahamas Travel Health Visa (BTHV) platform experienced interruptions and delays for a short period. This was reportedly due to power outages and other technical glitches at Cable Bahamas that serves as the government data host.
“This was most unacceptable and regrettable. We therefore apologize to the travelling public for this inconvenience. “I have asked that our service providers put in place the appropriate redundancy so that this does not recur. Our administration promised a review of all of the contracts associated with BTHV.
“I am pleased to report that that review has been done and renegotiations are underway with all of our partners,” the minister said.
‘Further, members would recall that the Progressive Liberal Party never felt this BTHV should apply to Bahamian citizens and permanent residents who call The Bahamas home. It was both a financial and regulatory burden on Bahamians and we vowed to stop it.
“Shortly after we came to office, we assessed the program and eliminated the fees for Bahamian citizens and residents and eliminated the visa altogether for inter-island travel. The fees were left in place for visitors.” He added, “After assessing the program we are pleased to announce that as of Monday, December 13, 2021, Bahamians and residents will no longer be required to obtain a travel health visa to enter their beautiful home.”
The minister further stressed that the testing requirements for COVID-19 will remain in place for all travelers. The testing protocols are currently under review by the Ministry of Health and Wellness. “The Ministry of Tourism has been consulted on the same, in order to ensure a balanced approach that protects our citizens, our tourism industry and our economy,” he said.
The minister however confirmed that the travel health visa would remain in place for tourists, for the foreseeable future. “We believe that this provides a level of protection for the health and safety of all in The Bahamas by vetting the authenticity of documents by the Bahamas Travel Health Visa Program, well in advance of travel,” he said.
According to the minister, the travel health visa has also allowed officials to gather key data for analysis and marketing, and the means to better communicate events that may impact travel.
“We foreshadow further, that the manual immigration landing card will be eliminated in due course. We are satisfied that once this process is
digitized, it will create a further convenience to our tourists and foreign business travelers.” Furthermore, the ministry has taken note of the recent announcement issued by the United States requiring both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated US citizens or residents to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than one day before boarding a flight to the US.
“The Bahamas is well positioned to adapt to this new requirement as many hotel properties offer on-site testing, making the process for visitors as efficient as possible, with ample off-property testing sites also available throughout The Bahamas.
“We remain optimistic for a robust winter travel season with ample direct airlift available from key markets, ample testing facilities, as well as accommodations and endless options of things to see, do and experience, to suit every type of vacation seeker — making The Bahamas a seamless travel opportunity,” the minister said.