Tourists “ripped off” by travel health visa

When Eve Pinder and Sally Lightbourn, both residents of Florida, planned their recent visit to The Bahamas they imagined a relaxing few days with old friends and family away from the hustle and bustle of their regular daily lives. They certainly never imagined frustration but they say  - at least for a tiny portion of their stay in the nation’s second city - that is just what they experienced.

The Bahamas’ Travel Health Visa - implemented by the Minnis Administration to help manage the travelling public during the COVID-19 crisis - is a mandatory document that comes with testing requirements and a fee. Anyone wishing to enter the country’s borders must apply online at www.travel.gov.bs for the health visa and pay the fee for the requisite test prior to their travel. The website also offers travellers the option of purchasing a voucher for the test needed to head back home and the labs available to administer those tests. Since they intended to leave on a Monday, the friends decided to take the test on the Saturday before their departure so there would be sufficient time to get the results back.

According to Eve, they purchased their vouchers “in good faith” for the necessary rapid antigen tests at $25 each and chose to go with the Medical Pavillion on East Sunrise Highway, which was the only lab listed on the website at the time as being opened on a Saturday. She says they were delighted at what they saw as a savings since a cash payment would have amounted to $20 more for a total of $45.

That delight though soon turned to outrage.

“So when we got to the Medical Pavillion on Saturday morning to take the tests, we were told they couldn’t do it. When we told them that they were listed on the website, they said the issue was that the Ministry of Tourism hadn’t sent them the kits needed for that particular test,” says a frustrated Eve.

She adds that staff at the Medical Pavillion recommended they try another lab - Bonaventure Medical Laboratory on West Mall Drive, which is also listed on the government’s website although its hours of operation read Monday - Friday.

Eve says she and Sally made their way to Bonaventure, but were told that the government’s vouchers would not be accepted there.

“We had to pay $45 to get the tests done - which we did - and so I decided to send an email to the Travel Compliance Unit at the address listed on the website to explain our ordeal and ask for a refund for the monies we used to purchase the vouchers. To my surprise, I got a quick response but I was disheartened when I read the email. The response was very short and said only that they do not give refunds.”

“I’m angry and I feel ripped off. The information on the website may be misleading, I don’t know, but we purchased the vouchers and chose the lab to get the tests based on the information they provided.”

Eve took her frustration to social media where she recounted the experience and has asked her viewers to share her post to make others aware.

“So apparently we just made a donation to whoever is responsible for collecting the voucher money. We can’t be the only ones that this has happened to, so I really want to know where are these non-refundable monies going,” she says.

Kanoo Pays, which has recently been at the center of scandalous allegations, is the payment processing provider for the vouchers.  The Bahamas Travel Health Visa website has been updated since Eve and Sally’s visit.