Sun | Jul 25, 2021

Bahamas credits health visa for tourism rebound

Published:Wednesday | June 23, 2021 | 12:08 AM
Persons enjoying the beach in Freeport, Bahamas, on August 21, 2019.
Persons enjoying the beach in Freeport, Bahamas, on August 21, 2019.

The Bahamas government says the tourism industry is showing signs of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, having issued nearly 300,000 Bahamas Travel Health Visas to visitors seeking entry over the first five months of this year.

Tourism and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar told Parliament that the statistics show that the Family Islands, or outer islands, are bouncing back even faster than New Providence.

“Everyone sees it. The airports are getting busier, the marinas up and down The Bahamas have never been busier, the occupancy levels in the hotels are improving and, most importantly, the tens of thousands of Bahamians who were furloughed as a result of this pandemic are slowly being called back to work, D’Aguilar said.

“More tourists means more jobs. More jobs means more income. And more income means an improvement in your quality of life,” the tourism minister said during the national budget debate.

Between January and May of this year, some 294,000 visitors received health visas to enter the country, with each month showing an improvement in numbers: 22,000 visitors in January; 30,000 in February; 64,000 in March; 68,000 in April; and 110,000 in May.

“As you can see, visitor arrivals are increasing by leaps and bounds … and so far, in 2021, almost 300,000 visitors have returned to our shores. Three hundred thousand for the first five months, and the rate of increase in their return is phenomenal,” he said. “Get ready to get back to work. Tourism is bouncing back,” he declared.

D’Aguilar said 60 per cent of the visitors travelled were bound for Nassau, while the remaining 40 per cent headed to the Family Islands.

“So that confirms to me that the Family Islands are bouncing back faster than Nassau, so far, since in 2019, 75 per cent of the visitors came to Nassau while 25 per cent went to the Family Islands,” he said.

“And when you dig even deeper into the number, 27 per cent of the persons going to the Family Islands went to Eleuthera (mostly Harbour Island); 20 per cent went to Bimini and Cat Cay (mostly by boat from Florida); 19 per cent went to Abaco, which is quite remarkable given the damage Hurricane Dorian put on that island and leads me to conclude that those second home owners are very, very loyal to Abaco; and one per cent went to Exuma,” said the tourism minister.

He added that with the onset of COVID-19, persons favoured low-density, secluded vacations at a small boutique hotel or Airbnb rental, away from crowds and larger properties.

The Bahamas Travel Health Visa Unit is currently processing 6,000-8,000 health visa requests daily. D’Aguilar praised the work of the agency in the market’s recovery.

“When we reopened on November 1, we did so with streamlined entry protocols that stood the test of time. Perhaps the most valuable component proved to be our Bahamas Travel Health Visa requirement,” he said.

“They do a yeoman’s job 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of year, and I am very proud of their exceptional work. They understand the need for customer service, they get that, in many instances, people are applying last minute, even at the check-in counter, and they operate with the mantra that no visitor is left behind, once they have the right documents, of course,” he said.