The slow return of foreign visitors to the country is turning out to be an opportunity for the Nassau Airport Development Company (NAD) to work through how to manage capacity issues at Lynden Pindling International Airport (LPIA) in the COVID-19 era, NAD Chief Executive Officer and President Vernice Walkine said yesterday.
Since the country opened its borders last week, only about 2,000 foreign visitors have passed through the nation’s primary gateway, making social distancing and health and safety protocols easy to manage.
However, as those numbers ramp up in the coming weeks, Walkine predicts NAD will have to look at how it manages those increasing numbers, bearing in mind the need for social distancing.
“Starting on July 1 when we were able to open for commercial traffic, the numbers of passengers had been pretty low by comparison with this same time last year, for example, so that has allowed us really to manage the numbers very, very well in this space. And as each day went by, the numbers started to slowly creep up and I expect that by the end of the month and certainly into August, the numbers will be even higher, although probably still considerably below last year but getting better,” Walkine said during a Citadel Consultants webinar entitled “Reinventing the Caribbean: a new vision for tourism and prosperity” yesterday.
“So I think this sort of slow start has been helpful if only to help us to understand what is working in the airport and what might prove to provide points of stress as the numbers grow. Because certainly social distancing will become more of a challenge if there’s a bit of a lineup particularly at the check-in hall. Do we then have to put in social distancing markers on the outside, so that people start to queue outside? What happens if the weather doesn’t cooperate?
“So all of these are the kinds of considerations that keep me up at night. It’s a nice problem to have, that our numbers would be so strong that we would have that kind of a capacity issue, but it’s something that I have to address clearly because terminals have a finite footprint.”
After a full week of being reopened to international travelers, Walkine described the new travel experience at the airport as pretty much touchless.
“All of us can remember back in 2001 when some dramatic events changed travel and tourism forever. We recognized right away that that period was one where, as you travelled through airports, it was a very high touch experience because of the risk of terrorism. Everybody traveling through had to have either their person or their belongings touched in order to uncover what the risk might be, explosive materials and so on. So here we are with this crisis in 2020, where everything is going to be touchless,” she said.
“Nobody wants to be touched, nobody wants screeners to touch their belongings, so the airport environment has had to evolve and deliberately pivot in three months to some of the things we’ve been wanting to do a little while now, with biometrics and what have you, to really do facial recognition and all those things that are so much more important today. So the experience now in airports is really moving rapidly to being a touchless experience.
“So even as you are screened by security officers, you don’t want them to touch you, so they have to use a wand, you have to walk through device beeps as they enter. Before they even check in for their flight, they’ve checked in at home, we’re encouraging them to check in digitally. We’re encouraging them to print their bag tags at home so that they can attach it to their bags and just drop the bags off, so that it limits their need to interact with any human beings.”
Foreign and residential travelers are required to wear face masks while passing through LPIA and will be questioned by nurses and have their temperature taken before departure.
Travelers entering the country must also provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
Last year, LPIA recorded 4.1 million travelers passing through its terminals.