Thursday’s front page photo of five cruise ships in port on Wednesday put a smile on faces particularly of people catering to disembarking passengers, along with news that three vessels with a combined capacity of 15,725 one-day guests were scheduled to call on Thursday. The high season is thus finally underway.
The same can be said for stay-over tourism as the island gets busier. Regrettably, this also led to undesirable situations at Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA), where incoming travellers faced long lines and took more than two hours after landing to come out on Thursday afternoon. Some inconvenience had been foreseen due to the use of a temporary arrival area so the Arrival Hall inside the terminal can be renewed as final part of the post-Hurricane Irma airport reconstruction project.
This obviously far-from-ideal timing resulted from unexpected delays. For practical reasons like the active involvement of contractors and presence of heavy equipment and materials, but also because it concerns means from the Dutch-sponsored Trust Fund administered by World Bank, further postponement was simply not an option.
Unfortunately, switching to the makeshift structure coincides with a “soft opening” of the already-rebuilt Departure Hall that includes e-gates. Whether unfamiliarity with the new facilities among personnel and/or passengers caused it is unclear, but there were also two-hour lines of persons trying get through Immigration and security to board an outbound flight.
One can understand that both developments are unavoidable, but it appears some serious damage control is in order at the destination’s main gateway. All parties involved need to quickly seek ways to make the process smoother in either direction; otherwise “The Friendly Island” will not necessarily be seen as such by visitors when entering and leaving.