Shorter wait expected at airports
With thousands of visitors expected to travel to Jamaica during the 2013/2014 winter tourist season which begins today, efforts are underway to lesson the lengthy wait in long lines at the island's two international airports.
According to Tourism Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill, the process has already begun with the removal of the outgoing immigration service, which had contributed to the bottleneck, from both the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston and Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay.
"We have done away with the outgoing immigration and we are now looking seriously at the incoming (immigration) and we are also looking at the immigration and custom forms and what we can do in moving forward," McNeill said.
"That changes everything, because when you have outgoing immigration you have booths in the hall and personnel behind those booths; but if you are able to do away with the outgoing immigration and get rid of all the booths then it means you have more space for security screening," he said.
The minister, who was addressing journalists at the Sunday Observer Press Club at the newspaper's head office in St Andrew last Thursday, said that the committee charged with this responsibility is working on changing the way some things are done at the airports.
"Now that the outgoing immigration has been removed, you can take people from one area to another and speed up incoming (passengers) and so it is a process and we have been working on it," McNeill said, adding that other critical changes will soon be taken to Cabinet for consideration, following which the announcements will be made.
According to McNeill, the plan is to make better use of the available technology so that passengers will no longer be encumbered with the task of having to complete paper forms with information which can be easily had from scanning a passenger's passport or from the flight manifesto.
"The information on the form is also there when a passport is scanned, so if we can allocate money to national security to get technology to feed that information to the Customs Department and the statistical people, you will be able speed up the line and prevent the bottle-neck," McNeill said, adding that there are some other specific things being examined just now.
With the United States immigration process getting closer to paperless, McNeill said that there is no doubt that Jamaica will also get to that place in the not too distant future.
The kinks which would be associated with passengers not being able to affix their signature to Custom declaration forms, according to McNeill, could easily be resolved.
"We are having the discussion about signing of custom forms because you are declaring something but there are other ways of declaring it, maybe with a machine like in the States that you press to declare you are not bringing in anything," explained, McNeill, adding that "Jamaica has to stay on the cutting-edge, given the technology that is available".
According to McNeill, it was only a week ago that a meeting was held with major immigration stakeholders as well as Minister of National Security Peter Bunting to look at the way forward.
"We have our flights coming in at a certain time between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm so we have thousands of people arriving at the same time. It is just the logistics of our business and so as you fix one problem you have another issue and we fix them as we go along," McNeill said.
Meanwhile, Director of Tourism John Lynch said that the 'hellos' and 'good-byes' are an integral part of the visitor experience.
With Jamaica becoming a victim of its own success given the increase in international flights, Lynch said that most airlines want to arrive at a certain time of the day with Saturday being the most popular day for travel.
"And so if you don't make sure you get those people out there as fast as possible especially the older persons and those with children, we have a problem and so we really need to fix that," Lynch argued.
Lynch noted, however, that Jamaica has come a long way in fixing some of the bottleneck problems at the airports.