PICA braces for bumper winter tourism season
MONTEGO BAY, St James — As Jamaica braces for a bumper winter tourism season, two senior Government ministers are exuding confidence that the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) is ready to process, in a timely manner, the throngs of visitors expected to pass through Sangster International Airport in this western city.
In recent years, the passenger experience at immigration and customs has been marked by long lines, fuelling much frustration.
But Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang, who has portfolio responsibility for PICA, told the Jamaica Observer that before the end of the year airline passengers will have access to some 100 immigration kiosks at their disposal, moving up from 80.
Chang had a first hand view of immigration and customs operations during a visit to the MBJ-operated Sangster International Airport, which welcomed 13,000 passengers two Saturdays ago.
“So far, what is happening here is coming on nicely. It worked well today (Saturday) and I think we had about 13,000 passengers — the kind of numbers you are going into the winter season with. And Christmas will test it fully when you get to 15,000, 16,000 but the system is looking good. We have to monitor it on a daily basis,” Dr Chang said.
“So we will have 80 kiosks and by the middle of the winter season, 100. For today (Saturday) with 13,000 passengers it went well and they only had 70 kiosks working well,” he added.
Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett was equally heartened by the availability of increased kiosks and the introduction of the electronic declaration form on September 1, 2023, which replaced the paper C5 Card.
The online C5 Form passenger declaration form, which must be completed by travellers entering Jamaica, is aimed at facilitating the efficient movement of passengers.
“PICA is improving, you see now that they are going to have up to 80 kiosks and eventually over 100. They [are] making the steps to deal with the arrival sequence,” Bartlett told the Sunday Observer.
“Everything is going to be online for easier facilitation,” he added.
The tourism minister noted that the peak arrival hours are between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm.
“That is the time, and especially between 12:00 pm and 4:00 pm, when all the international lines with the big planes arrive. In that window you are processing 60, 70 flights with eight, nine thousand people in that short window,” Bartlett said.
“We would have loved to see them (flights) dispersed throughout the day and in the night, if needs be. But it is good for us because what it means is that Jamaica is now the most connected destination in the region,” he added.
Bartlett reiterated that 1.05 million airline seats have been secured from nearly 6,000 flights coming into the island out of the United States — Jamaica’s biggest source market — during the winter season which begins on December 15. The surge in airlift, he said, represents an increase of 13 per cent over winter 2022/2023, when Jamaica recorded 923,000 airline seats.