Department of Immigration Suspends Fingerprint Scans
Over 20 flights are scheduled to land at the PGIA this Saturday - and the Director of the Immigration Department, Diana Locke, says that if there are long lines again, don't blame her staff. That's because the Department has suspended the fingerprint scans, at Cabinet's behest.
That directive came down on Tuesday ordering the Department to stop fingerprint scans for visitors at all border stations - including the Benque Viejo and Santa Elena borders. From the Immigration Department's perspective, cancelling the scans is opening up to a security breach - but for the decision makers in Belmopan - it's about avoiding another embarrassment like the one that played out at PGIA last Saturday when lines zig-zagged all along the airside of the airport and visitors had to queue up for two hours or more.
It was a costly inconvenience for the tour guides and the hoteliers who were trying to get guests to their destinations. We asked the Executive Director of the Belize Tourism Industry Association about it today at their AGM. He told us that their office received a flood of complaints:
John Burgos - Executive Director, BTIA
"We were made aware of the issue on Saturday because we began to receive calls and complaints directly from some of the tour operators and some of the hoteliers, especially the ones out-district and in private resorts, that have specific schedules that they have to follow in order to get the guests in before it gets dark. If you're catching a Tropic Air flight or a Maya Flight to some of the destinations, they're not suitable for night flights. So, that means that if you get stuck there when the sun goes down, you have to spend a night in Belize City, which is unfortunate to many because they're hoping to wake up at the destination where they're going to be spending their vacation. And also, for boat transfer for some of the private island resorts, they have to leave a certain time because of the conditions of the sea that presents late in the evening. So, it's a safety and security issue as well. We have been in discussion with various players to see what is the key root of the problem. As of yesterday, I received word from the Ministry of Tourism that the Immigration Department is going to have their full staff this weekend to ensure that the transition and the processing is going to be done in a timely manner. We do know that the airport has certain limitations to deal with the volume of people coming in. On Saturday, we had 22 flights. Each flight brings about 100 people, so you're talking about over 2,000 people who were coming at the same time."
"The high seasons is just beginning to kick into gear, which means that the large volumes of visitors is just going to begin to increase. So, if we have 22 flights, you're going to have more heads on each of those flights. So, it is a major concern because of the inconvenience. And, it's an additional cost also because if you have to make arrangements, if somebody misses their connecting flight internally, or their boat transfer, and they have to spend a night here in Belize City, that's an additional cost for the hotelier or the tour operator. We are looking forward to Government understanding the seriousness of the matter, and they're able to make the necessary adjustments."
As we told you, Cabinet has directed that the Immigration Department hold off on the fingerprint scans for the time being.
Immigration says that the real problem is limited infrastructure at the airport which cannot accommodate the volume of visitors. They say they have 10 officers in all available booths - and that a fingerprint scan only takes 90 seconds. Additionally they point to the fact that all 20+ flights in the tourism high season are scheduled to land between 10 AM and 3:00 PM - which is too close to expect the line to move quickly.
We'll see what happens on Saturday - and later on in the month when the number of Saturday flights increase to 27.