Have we reached a crossroads or what the more sceptical may refer to as an almost insurmountable hurdle in our tourism development?
Returning on a near capacity Virgin Atlantic B747-400 from Gatwick last week, I was initially surprised that just before landing a member of the flight crew advised over the PA to try and get off the aircraft as soon as possible. It was explained a British Airways flight was landing right behind us and the hurry up was to to try and minimize the long queues in immigration. In fact, not only the British Airways B777-200 followed us but also an American Airlines B738.
By now, under not one but two Governments, we would have thought the millions of dollars spent on the Automated Passport Kiosks be fully operational for all arrivals. But no, over two years (November 2016) after installation they are restricted to a very few, seemingly just Barbadians and those with permanent status in Barbados.
Even before the British Airways plane had barely opened its doors the long line of Virgin passengers were already out the terminal door. If the other two aircraft had been close to full that would have meant up to almost 1,000 passengers (depending on model) would be standing in line, within seconds of arrival. Among them of course, many small children and elderly persons!
What seems amazing is that the carrier – in this case, Virgin Atlantic fully understands the challenges our limited Immigration facilities pose. Why are our own tourism officials and Government (s) appear not to be able or willing to correct the problem?
The naysayers will point out that this is not a situation unique to Barbados and delays will be experienced in other destinations like entry airports in the United States including Miami, Charlotte and New York. Other Caribbean territories have addressed this by implementing US pre-clearance in their own states but sadly, not so far, Barbados. Even where this had not been introduced, everyone has to stop and think for a moment that the United States in not a tourism dependent country and similarly, neither is the United Kingdom or Canada.
Staying with the ‘dependency’ issue, the Prime Minister, recently highlighted the existing and potential treat of Sargassum seaweed and is quoted as stating it could be ‘as devastating to national economies as a strong tropical storm or category 1 hurricane’. Few can argue with her conclusion, especially if you have witnessed the consequences as I recently did on the French West Indian island of St. Martin.
Our visitors largely comprehend the nature driven challenge, but need to know that we are seriously trying to cope with the problem, even on a localized basis. Some do not understand why our comparatively large ‘Defence Force (BDF)’ cannot be mobilized, at least in public areas, where a positive even if temporary difference could be made.
Naturally, it is not what they are trained for but if this is really the threat that is portrayed by those in the highest office, doesn’t it make sense?