By Michelle Sutherland
There continue to be mixed reviews about this week's rollout of the mandatory Belize Travel Insurance for tourists, as stakeholders have expressed concerns about the additional cost on visitors and the backlogs at the airport.
On Wednesday, Belize Hotel Association (BHA) President Alina Saldivar told The Reporter that the airlines and hotels are equally concerned and are holding their collective breath ahead of the huge surge of visitors that are expected this weekend. While Saldivar said that the price of US $18 for the insurance policy has been well received by many of the visitors, it continues to be a controversial issue among members.
“While some tourists feel that the cost is acceptable, the process to purchase the insurance seems to be off to a bad start,” Saldivar explained. “There have been some technical issues on the site as we have reports from travelers about double charging and other technical issues. The worst part is the fact that the program has added to very long lines at the airport. As you know there are already many existing challenges with the infrastructure at the airport so our visitors are now required to stand outside to purchase this insurance if they weren’t able to do it online before they arrived.”
She went on to tell The Reporter that the videos and photographs that were taken outside the PGIA on Tuesday which showed the snaking lines were worrying, to say the least. She even went as far as to say that it was unfortunate that the website was not even functional up until a couple of days prior to its launch. Despite all of the thorns that are sticking out, Saldivar said that the BHA will do its best to encourage all of its members to notify their guests to purchase the insurance plan in advance so as to avoid any delays in their travel.
The Reporter also spoke to Stewart Krohn, the managing director of Naia Resort and Spa, who is also the President of the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA). Krohn admitted that while there are several reports of administrative hiccups this week, he strongly supports the new mandate and also expects that those gaps in the process could be ironed out by next week.
According to Krohn, while in some quarters there are arguments that the price of the insurance policy is an added cost to travelers, the majority of them have agreed that it is affordable and so far it has not proven to be a major barrier for persons coming into the country.
“I think that if you weigh the advantages of the insurance with the disadvantages I think in the long run it is going to help arrivals in Belize rather than hurt it. As a hotel owner, we strongly support it; we thought that it is a good thing for our guests because what we have found is that many of our guests and potential ones some of their biggest fear is that while they want to come to Belize, they are afraid of testing positive for the virus while on vacation and then end up having to quarantine in a strange country.”
One resort that we know of that has decided to turn lemons into lemonade is the Naia Resort and Spa. According to Krohn they have used the situation to their advantage and have made it a part of their marketing strategy by paying the US $18 tab for each of their guests by agreeing that if the guest pays the insurance, upon booking into their resort they will be entitled to an $18 USD tab for each individual visitor.
“To avoid even the least negative feedback, we believe that it is in our best interest because we do not think that $18 is a lot of money for the length of time that it offers protection. We see it as a goodwill marketing gesture on our part,” said Krohn.
While Krohn said that he is aware that it is the tourists’ responsibility to purchase the travel insurance prior to their arrival in the country, he is also of the view that some resorts are not doing enough to inform their guests of the newest requirement, and are not making enough effort to publicize such an important announcement on their website or social media page. He went on to ask BTIA members to inform their guests of these changes as soon as possible.
The Belize Travel Insurance can be purchased online at https://www.belizetravelinsurance.com. Apart from a valid passport, tourists are also required to show proof of having purchased the insurance plan as well as confirmation of their booking at a Gold Standard Hotel, which they will present to Immigration personnel. Travelers are also being required to complete the Immigration form that is provided on their respective flights and present a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival at the airport. If a test cannot be presented then one will be administered at the airport for a fee of USD $50 per passenger. Children under the age of 5 will be exempted from these regulations.