BELIZE CITY, Mon. Jan. 17, 2022– The Belize Tourism Board (BTB) announced a new travel insurance mandate last Thursday in a press release. The new requirements go into effect on February 15 and apply to all tourists visiting the country. The release from the BTB states, “all visitors are required to apply for Belize Travel Health Insurance — a mandatory insurance that helps protect travelers against incurred medical and non-medical expenses if they test positive for COVID-19 during their stay in Belize.”
The policy will cost US $18 and provide coverage of up to US $50,000 for medical expenses related to treating a COVID-19 infection over a period of 21 days. The insurance plan will also cover up to USD 2,000 of lodging expenses incurred during the period in which an infected person is quarantined and also cover any emergency assistance services provided for a sick traveler, such as air evacuation, or any expenses related to pre-existing conditions.
Travelers are asked to purchase the insurance policy before coming to Belize but can also purchase such coverage at the Philip Goldson International Airport and at the land borders. All visitors entering the country will be required to purchase the insurance policy, except Belizean nationals, permanent residents, travelers visiting under the qualified retirement program, long-stay visitors, and flight crews.
The Director of Tourism at the BTB, Evan Tillett, told local reporters that the travel
insurance will provide “peace of mind” for both visitors and local hotels. He said that during the pandemic, many countries have opted to implement travel mandates and have tailor-made those policies to suit their locations and their guests’ needs. One area of the policy protects hotels by allowing for recovery of funds in cases of cancellation—especially since the new Omicron variant spreading rapidly across the globe has caused uncertainty in travel plans and resulted in mass cancellations worldwide, albeit not as widespread as was the case at the start of the pandemic.
The Belize Hotel Association, however, in a letter to its members released today, said that the association has opposed the idea of mandatory travel insurance since it was first proposed by the BTB back in October of 2021. They said that the BHA representative on the board of directors at the BTB voted against that proposed insurance, citing their objection to the fact that only one company, the Insurance Corporation of Belize (ICB), was responsible for providing the coverage.
In his remarks, Tillett stated that they are open to proposals from other insurance companies and confirmed that the BTB is working with the Insurance Company of Belize (ICB) at this time.
The BHA in essence is saying that there is not sufficient justification for the mandatory insurance, since there is not enough evidence to indicate that any excessive burden has been placed on our health system by tourists or that visitors were not able to meet their medical expenses. While they agree that hotels should be compensated for an extended stay of guests who are infected with COVID-19, they feel that the reasoning offered by the government is not satisfactory.
This morning the United Democratic Party released a statement seeking clarification of the announced travel mandate. They expressed concern over the fact that coverage will be purchased from a single proposed provider and added that the US $18 fee is “yet another tax on visitors coming to Belize.”
The party proposed that travelers with existing insurance coverage could provide proof of such coverage upon arrival in the country, opt-in to the travel insurance, or sign a liability waiver excluding them from the insurance. They also proposed that hotels can provide travel insurance as a part of a package.
The release from the UDP states, “With visitor arrivals at the PGIA for the first 11 months of 2021 down by approximately 60 percent of the 2019 overnight arrival figures, taxing visitors indiscriminately thereby increasing the cost of travel to Belize in a very competitive environment, may cause more harm than good in our national economic recovery efforts.”
They urged that the government avoid implementing mandatory policies that could deter travel to Belize and move toward measures incentivizing travel and geared toward increasing visitor numbers while maintaining safety measures for citizens and visitors.