Minister: Plans afoot to make TA more ‘user-friendly’ – The Royal Gazette

Created: Jun 04, 2022 07:57

Striking a Balance: Vance Campbell, Minister of Tourism (file photo)

The government has once again defended its controversial travel authorization policy, insisting the form ‘plays a vital role in protecting our community and helping to prevent the importation of Covid-19’.

But Vance Campbell, the tourism minister, also acknowledged the process needed to be made more “user-friendly” – and plans were underway to improve it.

Mr Campbell spoke out after a visitor on a cruise to the island wrote a damning criticism of the travel authorization process.

On his site Beyond ships Cruise enthusiast Richard Wagner said the policy was “an exercise in boring bureaucracy that creates anxiety”.

Each visitor must pay $40 to complete the form before arriving in Bermuda. But they cannot disembark a ship until they receive confirmation from the government that their form has been received and approved.

According to Mr Wagner, he and many other passengers were “left hanging” because government approval was only granted at the last minute – when their cruise ship arrived in the Royal Dockyard.

“Due to Bermuda’s clearance process, there was a great deal of concern among passengers about whether they would be allowed to disembark in Bermuda until the very last moment,” Wagner wrote.

“More than a few passengers have confided that they will not be returning to Bermuda while this clearance process is in effect.”

The Royal Gazette asked Mr. Campbell if, in light of Mr. Wagner’s article, he thought the TA process was having a detrimental effect on the island’s tourism industry. Mr. Campbell did not answer this question.

Asked about the issue, a government press officer replied: “That is the answer that is given. Nothing else is going to be offered.

But Mr. Campbell acknowledged that the process needed to be improved.

He said, “Plans are moving forward to streamline the technical support process and make it more user-friendly. We know the customer service experience needs improvement and we will make the necessary changes to make the improvement a reality.”

Mr Campbell said he believed the process had struck a balance between opening the island up to visitors and protecting its borders.

He added: “Bermuda, like the rest of the world, is keen to break out of the isolation created by the pandemic, not least for the benefit of our tourism industry. But we also recognize that we must ensure that our borders are safeguarded and protected.

“We continue to listen to the community, including our cruise, airline and hotel partners regarding this policy and have actively sought to find a balance.

“ATs play a vital role in protecting our community and helping to prevent the importation of Covid-19, including foreign variants. Although we don’t expect ATs to become a permanent fixture, for now it remains a policy.”

Mr Campbell insisted that other jurisdictions had similar policies in place.

He said: “To be sure, travel requirements vary by home base country and since the pandemic more and more countries have implemented some form of electronic travel authorization.”

However, a survey of 27 Caribbean jurisdictions showed that most islands had abandoned the policy.

According to Weekly trip website, only the Bahamas and St. Kitts and Nevis require visitors to obtain official government approval before entry. The government has maintained that the policy will remain in place here until the end of March 2023.

The opposition One Bermuda Alliance has repeatedly condemned the policy, describing it as a “stealth tax” that should be scrapped. It generated about $14 million for the government last year and is expected to bring in $22 million in the current fiscal year.

Last month, Arianna Hodgson, a government senator, acknowledged that the TA provided a vital source of revenue for the Progressive Labor Party administration.

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