Statement by Premier and Minister of Finance
Honourable Andrew A. Fahie
15th June, 2021
BVI Tourism Gets A Further Boost
Good day and God's Blessings to all the people of the Virgin Islands and beyond.
I want to begin by reminding us all that the future in the Virgin Islands is for the prepared. And this is a good point to reflect on at this time because students at all levels are coming to the end of their courses of study and are celebrating their graduation from their respective programmes.
On behalf of the entire Territory and on behalf of your Government, I congratulate all graduates on this milestone and we pray that you succeed in your chosen career paths. You have put - in long hours – and often long nights – of study, and so achievement time has come. The fruits of your labour are maturing.
You have been preparing to capture opportunities or to bring your dreams into your reality and I want you to know always that your Government and your fellow Virgin Islanders are here to support and encourage you. So, keep aiming for the stars. Keep pushing the limits and be all and everything that you can be.
Over the course of the past several weeks, as your Premier, I have been doing my best to keep you, the public, updated on the work that is taking place to further reopen and re-energise the BVI economy.
As you know, our mission, working with you the people of the Virgin Islands is to push the economy into overdrive – doing so in a safe, responsible and managed way, so that we can continue to move forward and at the same time minimise any foreseeable risks.
In my last address on 26 May, 2021, I discussed the situation in some of the neighbouring jurisdictions with regard to the number of COVID-19 cases in those countries, the protocols that remain in effect there, and the challenges that those countries are facing, economically, socially and with respect to their public health.
I pray that God continues to keep them safe, and that He continues to keep us here in the Virgin Islands safe, as we all continue doing our part and our best in our respective countries to get our economies continually moving in this COVID-19 era.
Albeit that COVID-19 still remains very fluid, in the BVI we are doing our best not to take a relaxed approach to the pandemic. We are remaining vigilant.
While the BVI has managed well so far and while our handling of the pandemic has received international recognition from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), let us never be complacent.
Our blessings in managing COVID-19 have been due to compassion and protection from God.
As a praying people and country, coupled with the hard work of all our public officers throughout all our Government Ministries and Statutory Bodies, our team of Ministers, all the House of Assembly Members, our medical professionals, our business community and you, the people of the Virgin Islands, we continue to be safe.
I continue to emphasise that we are all in this together.
The BVI has rallied through 15 months of this worst pandemic in over 100 years by working together.
Yes, there were persons who had challenges with adhering to the rules, but we have not allowed those small numbers of persons to define us.
The Virgin Islands’ pandemic story is one of BVILOVE and cooperation as we looked out for each other, helped each other and worked with each other –the way we are accustomed to doing during any emergency.
We did not allow the perfect to become the enemy of the greater good. We all made adjustments and we continue to move forward.
As such, on 9th June Cabinet approved the reopening of the following ports of entry to receive fully vaccinated international travellers and crew members only, starting 17th June, 2021:
- Soper’s Hole Dock, West End;
- Dog Hole Dock, Jost Van Dyke, and
- St Thomas Bay Dock, Virgin Gorda
These ports of entry will be known as fully vaccinated ports of entry for only fully vaccinated travellers and crew.
Cabinet also decided that all requisite Government and Statutory Bodies work together to establish Anegada Seaport as an official Port of Entry, to receive fully vaccinated travellers and crew members only for this initiative. The public will receive updates as we continue to move forward with this initiative.
Please also be advised that the Road Town seaport and the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport will be the only ports where vaccinated and non-vaccinated travellers would be allowed to enter the Territory.
Let me also inform you here that domestic travellers will remain unaffected in their ability to use all ports.
Let me repeat that. Domestic travellers will remain unaffected in their ability to use all ports.
These decisions of Cabinet compliment the revised measures that were made public by the Minister of Health Honourable Carvin Malone, just last week.
At that time the Minister informed that on 9th June, 2021, Cabinet decided that effective 15th June, 2021, fully vaccinated persons travelling from overseas would require an RT-PCR test or approved rapid antigen test within five (5) days of arrival and provide satisfactory evidence of being fully vaccinated. However, fully vaccinated travellers would no longer be subject to PCR testing upon arrival (day zero) or quarantine measures unless so ordered by a Quarantine Officer as a result of entry screening. Simply put, no quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers upon arrival.
Also, effective 15th June, 2021, partially vaccinated persons travelling from overseas would require a PCR test within five (5) days of travel, provide satisfactory evidence of being partially vaccinated, and will be subject to a PCR test or rapid antigen test upon arrival (day zero) and quarantine for a period of four (4) days, and the Gateway Portal fee will be reduced to thirty-five dollar ($35) for fully vaccinated travellers. The reduced testing and lower BVIGateway Portal fee will make it more affordable and less of a hassle for fully vaccinated travellers.
In addition, flight and vessel crews who are fully vaccinated would no longer require bi-weekly screening testing, but should self-monitor and report any symptoms of, or recent exposure to COVID-19.
Lastly, a fixed penalty of ten thousand dollars ($10,000) on summary conviction would be introduced for producing false documentation such as vaccination records or COVID-19 test certificates.
These new measures will further allow for the expansion of our tourism reopening, and by extension our economy.
These new measures will make it easier for fully vaccinated visitors to enter the BVI and explore and enjoy all our islands, while supporting our local businesses.
These new measures put the BVI in a very competitive position among the tourism destinations in the region, along with our reputation of being a relatively COVID-19 safe destination, and of course our spectacular sailing, beaches, views, culture and cuisine.
Tourism, as you know, is one of the economic engines of the BVI.
Therefore, as the arrivals further increase the benefits will accrue not just for our accommodation properties, taxi operators, charter boat companies, restaurants, bars and various other tourism businesses, but they will flow into all the other sectors of our economy.
And may I add that from as early as last month, May 2021, charter boat companies and other stakeholders were reporting that bookings are on the rise, and that some operators are already booked solid for several months ahead.
Companies in the charter boat industry have reported that this month, which traditionally is not a busy month, is the busiest they have had since the reopening.
Some properties and charter companies are contemplating remaining open when they would normally close due to slow business because of the increased demand.
The ferry companies are appealing for us to increase the maximum number of passengers that could sail into the BVI through the USVI. This is something we continue to work on with our USVI counterparts because the decision has to work for both the BVI and the USVI.
I am pleased to report that one hotel in the BVI has already reported 60 percent occupancy in April. We anticipate more such positive news.
Pushing the boundaries always means that you are opening up opportunity for risk.
In this process of continuous development and continuous improvement, we have listened to the feedback from the public and our visitors.
As gaps and areas for improvement were detected we listened and we took the necessary action.
As persons made suggestions for how we could improve the convenience and the ease of doing business, we took this into consideration along with the many other factors that we had to watch when making decisions.
Six months into our border reopening for tourism, considering the volume of persons who entered the BVI and the low COVID-19 transmission rate, and considering where we are now with our further reopening, it is clear that overall we made the right choices – so far.
Since we began the managed reopening of our borders to international travellers in December 2020, we have received over 20,500 persons coming into the BVI – and these numbers continue to grow daily.
At the Road Town Ferry Dock, which began receiving persons entering via the ferries from St Thomas on 15th April, 2021, approximately 5,000 arrivals were recorded in total.
For the first eight (8) days of June alone more than 1,600 arriving passengers were received in total.
The vast majority of these persons were tourists, and their arrival would have translated into economic opportunities for our taxi drivers, tour operators, charter companies, hotels and accommodations, restaurants, and our economy as a whole.
And may I point out that for the entire month of May, arrivals at the sea port totaled just over 2,500 persons.
So, you can see the dramatic increase in the numbers as we have been gradually easing the conditions for entering the Territory – as we did last month with the reduction of the BVIGateway application fee and the quarantine periods for fully vaccinated persons.
We are mindful that a number of places where people would usually travel from to enjoy the BVI, they too are either on lock down or have limited curfew due to COVID-19 cases. Once things change, we look forward to seeing our number grow even more.
I am pleased to say that the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport has been receiving visitors since the beginning of December 2020. From December 2020 to May 2021, an average of 2,400 arrivals were recorded at the airport on a monthly basis. Total arrivals in May 2021 was 3,012 persons.
But, for the first eight (8) days of June, 1,225 arriving passengers have been received already at the airport.
The trend over the past six months has been that upwards of 70 percent of arrivals have been tourists.
In the last three months the trend has been where tourists made up over 80 percent of all arriving passengers at the airport.
This means that of the 15,460-plus persons who entered the BVI via the airport since December 2020, more than 11,500 of them were tourists – and for the first eight (8) days of June alone, about 1,000 tourists would have come into the BVI.
By now, we all have seen photos of several boats in Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke. Yachts are populating our harbours on Anegada and Tortola also, once again.
On the social media channels I saw several other popular restaurants and bars commenting about an uptick in their business this past week.
These positives are happening because we have stayed the course during the pandemic.
This has not been by accident, of course, this only reaffirms what we already know—GOD is with us.
And we should continue to see positive results as long as we continue exercising the necessary caution while we manage the full reopening of the tourism industry.
The BVI remains one of the most popular, most loved, and most sought after travel destination in the world.
Visitor interest and visitor confidence remain high.
So, as you can see, we are heading into overdrive.
Business is rebounding and the jobs and economic opportunities are opening up.
Let us also keep in mind that there are other initiatives that are in the works that will generate opportunities in other sectors of our economy.
Let me say that what we continue to learn that vaccines are giving the global tourism and travel industries the mechanism through which traveller volumes can increase to viable levels.
Vaccines are giving destinations the sense of security that they can increase visitor arrivals and reduce restrictions so that visitors can have a relaxing holiday.
Vaccines are giving travellers the sense of security that it is reasonably safe for them to get into airplanes and ferries, and that they can travel to other countries.
And, the vaccines help to protect and prevent severe illness and complications, if one is to become affected with the COVID-19 virus.
While vaccination is strongly encouraged, vaccination remains voluntary in the BVI.
I wish to say at this time that the cruise industry is starting to make a comeback.
I was able to meet recently with many cruise liners in the United States to cement BVI’s position in this industry.
The first cruise ship was due to call on the BVI this week. However, due to increased COVID-19 cases at a ‘destination stop’ prior to ours, the cruise liner took the decision to cancel the rest of the cruise.
Do rest assured that we are still on target to receive cruise ships in the very near future. More information on this sector of our tourism product will be made available to the public in short order.
I am asking all the stakeholders within this industry of the BVI to prepare yourselves and get your businesses ready to welcome the return of the cruise ships.
We can do this together.
Our history tells us that the success of the BVI is contingent on us working together, regardless of our differences, political affiliation, educational background, religious preferences, civic consciousness, and place of birth, once we live in the Virgin Islands and believe in the development and growth of the Virgin Islands, we will do great things together.
I believe in the God of our forefathers that moving together one as a hand, we will continue to push the BVI economy into overdrive.
Remember to remain vigilant.
Let us continue to maintain the necessary protocols: sanitise your hands, social distance, and wear your mask.
May God continue to bless and protect these Virgin Islands.