BTA boss and PLP MP Caines backs TA but pledges improvements on the way
Tourism boss Wayne Caines has backed the decision to keep the Travel Authorisation form – but pledged that the process would be made less cumbersome.
Mr Caines, who is the chairman of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, admitted that inefficiencies such as long phone waits and multiple people travelling together having to fill out individual forms needed to be ironed out.
Speaking during the Motion to Adjourn at Friday’s House of Assembly sitting, the PLP MP said he had spoken with Vance Campbell, the Minister of Tourism, and that there was “a plan to simplify the form and make it more user friendly”.
Mr Caines was responding to demands from Opposition members including Cole Simons, the One Bermuda Alliance leader, for the Government to improve or eliminate the $40 form, which is required to enter Bermuda, as a matter of priority.
Mr Caines said: “The TA is a form that we believe at this point to be necessary as a part of our public health practice in Bermuda. We know that it is inconvenient to many but we have to work through it.
“I believe that we can make the form better, I believe that we can make it more succinct, I believe that we can make it where more people answer the phone. We have gone to the agencies and asked – what are the problems?”
He said people had told him: “Wayne, people are waiting on the phones too long.”
“I can go to the Minister of Tourism and say if we are not going to get rid of the phones then we have to get rid of the wait.”
He said people had also said: ‘Wayne, my mom’s got to fill out the form, my dad’s got to fill out the form, my daughter has to fill out the form.“
He added: “Well guess what, we are going to put an algorithm in place, which is going to save the information so you do not have to fill out the application every time.”
The minister said that the Government had listened to the concerns of the BTA and the Bermuda Hotel Association.
“We said listen, we are not going to get rid of the form at this point … this is the remedy because we want people to come to Bermuda, we acknowledge their concerns, their concerns are important, their concerns are valid, we are not going to dismiss the concerns.
“Do we need to make sure that the TA form is regularised and that at the appropriate time to do away with it? Of course we should.
“It was never planned to be a long-term solution but right now we have to understand that as we travel, through the world over the last few months, most countries have restrictions when you come in … we are no different.
“Protecting our borders – we do that because it is best for our people. Having said that there is a way that we can do it and do it well, and still make sure that our tourism product is the best.”
Mr Simons told the House that he had received a phone call from a wealthy elderly lady who owns a multimillion-dollar house in Bermuda. He said she was frustrated with the TA form and said she would not return to the island until the matter was addressed.
“This is somebody who has spent millions and millions and millions of dollars in Bermuda. She probably represents other seniors who have troubles with completing the TA forms.”
He spoke about tourists experiencing similar challenges.
“If we want to kill tourism then we can continue on the path that we are currently taking as far as inconvenience is concerned,” he said.
“We must remain competitive, we must ensure that when tourists come to Bermuda it is a seamless transition that is convenient. I understand from the Minister of Transport that the Cabinet is looking to see how we can make this more efficient. I invite the Premier to make this a priority …
“I invite the Government and the Premier to make this a priority and do something or eliminate the travel authorisation.”
Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, said the Government was “listening and making the adjustments”. He said that while there had been negative reports of people’s experiences, there were also positive accounts.
“For every bad story there are good stories as well.”
Scott Pearman, shadow legal affairs minister, said: “That is complete nonsense – one bad experience is one bad experience too many.”
* We want to hear from you. What was your experience of the TA form? If it was good, tell us, if it was bad, tell us. Is it putting you off travelling to Bermuda or doesn’t it matter to you? E-mail email@example.com.
Michael Dunkley, the Shadow Minister for National Security, responded to questions from The Royal Gazette about the Travel Authorisation form before the debate in the House of Assembly.
He said: “It is clear the Government is not listening to the people. With the volume of complaints from every direction it is unbelievable the Government has taken so long to get rid of or streamline the TA.
“There is no doubt the TA is a deterrent and having a detrimental impact on travelling to the island as many have said when recounting their experience.
“In addition, the Government seems to struggle with consistent messaging as one member says it's all about the money and another states the TA is important for border control.
“Border Control? Government figures show the majority of our current Covid cases are due to local [community] transmission.
“Furthermore, while many of our competing tourism destinations are freeing up border entry we remain stuck with a TA that is simply now not serving its purpose.
“I am constantly reached out to by travellers who are having issues with their TA. Just last night a couple from Boston leaving on an early morning flight still had not received their TA. Thankfully, I was able to reach an employee in the health department who delivered excellent service and was able to access the TA, allowing the couple to travel this morning. But it should not be like this.
“The Government has continually said that we must learn to live with Covid and we agree. That means cumbersome and bureaucratic restrictions like the TA, should end.
“The One Bermuda Alliance, once again, calls for the TA to be eliminated or streamlined with a form similar to what is required for travel to the US.
“It's not too late for the Progressive Labour Party government to do the right thing.“