Minister: plans in the pipeline to make TA more ‘user-friendly’
The Government has once again defended its controversial Travel Authorisation policy, insisting that the form "serves a vital role by protecting our community and by helping to prevent Covid-19 from being imported“.
But Vance Campbell, the Minister of Tourism, also acknowledged that the process needed to be made more “user-friendly” – and that plans were in the pipeline to improve it.
Mr Campbell spoke out after a visitor on a cruise to the island wrote a damning review of the Travel Authorisation process.
On his website Beyond Ships, cruise line enthusiast Richard Wagner said the policy was “an exercise in annoying bureaucracy that creates anxiety”.
Every visitor must pay $40 to complete the form before arriving in Bermuda. But they cannot disembark from a vessel until they have received confirmation from the Government that their form has been received and approved.
According to Mr Wagner, he and many other passengers were “left on tenterhooks“ because government approval was not granted until the last minute – when their cruise ship was pulling into the Royal Naval Dockyard.
“Because of the Bermuda authorisation process, there was much anxiety among the passengers as to whether they would be allowed ashore in Bermuda until the very last moment,” Mr Wagner wrote.
“More than a few passengers confided that they were not going to return to Bermuda as long as this authorisation process was in effect.”
The Royal Gazette asked Mr Campbell if, in light of Mr Wagner’s article, he believed the TA process was having a detrimental effect on the island’s tourism industry. Mr Campbell did not respond to that question.
When pressed on the issue, a government press officer replied: “That's the response that's being provided. There's nothing else that's going to be offered.”
But Mr Campbell did acknowledge that the process needed to be improved.
He said: "Plans are advancing to streamline the TA process and to make it more user- friendly. We know that the customer service experience needs to be improved and we will make the necessary changes so that the improvement is realised.“
Mr Campbell said that he believed the process struck a balance between opening up the island to visitors and protecting its borders.
He added: "Bermuda, like the rest of the world, is anxious to move beyond the isolation created by the pandemic, particularly for the benefit of our tourism industry. But we also recognise that we must ensure that our borders are safeguarded and protected.
"We continue to listen to the community, including our cruise, air and hotel partners regarding this policy and we have actively sought to find a balance.
“TAs serve a vital role by protecting our community and by helping to prevent Covid-19 from being imported, including foreign variants. While we do not expect TAs to become a permanent fixture, for now, it remains a policy."
Mr Campbell insisted that other jurisdictions had similar policies in place.
He said: “Certainly, travel requirements vary by home port country and, since the pandemic, more and more countries have put in place some form of an electronic travel authorisation.”
However, a survey of 27 jurisdictions in the Caribbean showed that most islands had scrapped the policy.
According to the Travel Weekly website, only the Bahamas and St Kitts and Nevis require visitors to get 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 an estimated $14 million for the Government last year and is budgeted to bring in $22 million during the current financial year.
Last month Arianna Hodgson, a government senator, acknowledged that the TA provided a vital revenue stream for the Progressive Labour Party administration.