It has been a little over six months since the Philip Goldson International Airport was closed to tourists and Belizeans. This was done as a measure in the fight against Covid-19. Since then, a lot has been discovered about the virus and measures have been established, making it possible to reopen the PGIA tomorrow. A lot has been said by government and health officials on what the procedures would be like once the airport reopens. Today, the media got to see it first hand via an airport tour led by the Belize Tourism Board. Here is Reporter Courtney Menzies with that story.
Tomorrow the gates of the Philip Goldson International Airport will be reopened for the first time since midMarch. A lot has changed within the airport in these past six months though including the process that tourists and Belizeans will have to go through before they’re able to leave the airport. Misty Michael the Director of Marketing and Industry Relations at the Belize Tourism Board took us on a tour to present the different measures that are now in place. There are now seven checkpoints in place for every passenger that steps off a plane.
Misty Michael, Director of Marketing and Industry Relations, Belize Tourism Board: “Checkpoint one is disembarking the airplane. Checkpoint two is a hospitality meet and greet. All passengers have to enter checkpoint two. In this checkpoint we are basically ensuring that all passengers have downloaded the Belize Health App, that they’ve completed their arrival forms, if they are a Belizean that they complete the quarantine form and in the case of tourists who are staying at a Gold Standard hotel and travelling within the safe corridor that they receive their safe corridor band so that it makes it easier to move them through the safe corridor process. There’s also a health verification that takes place in checkpoint two, the public health inspectors will ensure that all of the information that was placed into the Belize Health App is correct there’s also a temperature check that takes place in checkpoint two and once you’ve been cleared then health will release the passenger to move into checkpoint three. Checkpoint three is another health check with the health nurses and then from there you move into checkpoint four which is the health unit. Now if you’ve arrived with a negative PCR and there are no other visible signs or symptoms that would indicate that you could possibly have COVID you will be cleared to go through the green line and if you’re in that green line you bypass the health unit and you go straight through to Immigration and Customs processing. If you do need to be tested so this could be a tourist who arrives without a PCR or a Belizean coming into the country you will need to enter the health unit, you will be swabbed. Now there’s a differentiation within testing as well. Tourists who are travelling within the safe corridor will only need to be swabbed and they will be able to exit the clinic and finish the arrival process. Belizeans who will be going back into the community will be swabbed and they will proceed into checkpoint five which is a waiting lounge and they’ll wait there to get their test results from a health officer. We anticipate that the results will take anywhere from maybe twenty five to thirty minutes for them to get that back. Once they’ve received their test results the health officer will place a stamp on their arrival form which indicates that they’ve been cleared by all of those previous checkpoints and then they’ll be allowed to enter back into the arrival hall to complete the entry process and of course that includes immigration, baggage claim and customs and that is checkpoint six and the final checkpoint is checkpoint seven which is the airport exit. At the exit BTB also has a team and they’ll be looking for tourists travelling within the safe corridor so they’ll be looking for the wrist bands and if they are travelling by ground transfer to their hotels say in Cayo they’ll be directed to the ground transfer outside and if they’re travelling by air to one of the islands or down south the team will be working with Maya and Tropic for them to be at the door to pick up their passengers for onward transfer.”
Closing Belize’s borders had a massive impact on the tourism industry. While the action was necessary to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 it took a toll on stakeholders big and small. With the airport reopening BTB is hoping that the sector will receive a much needed boost. According to Michael at first however the tourist would only be trickling in.
Misty Michael, Director of Marketing and Industry Relations, Belize Tourism Board: “The industry recognizes that this is typically still slow season so it wasn’t anticipated that with the airport reopening that we would have had a mass influx of visitors but we do anticipate that by the time we get closer to November and leading to the end of the year that the numbers will be picking up.”
Reporter: The first flight into Belize will be 20% tourist and 89% Belizeans who are returning home.
The new procedures are not the only changes made at the airport. According to the Manager of Operations, Enrique Hoare, less people will be allowed onto the compound, including taxi operators and private vehicles. Additionally, the staff working at the airport has undergone specialized training.
Enrique Hoar, Manager of Operations: “Firstly one of the biggest changes that we’re going to have is the terminal will now be for passengers travelling and passengers only. That will then afford us the spacing to meet all the social distancing all the other protocols we need to abide by. You will find that the aviation industry is one that is very flexible. We have been able to take various shocks over the years, 9/11 nine years ago which brought different standards and now we’re to meet COVID and deal with whatever issue we need to deal with. We have done training for over seven hundred airport employees with the support of Ministry of Health on COVID especially. We have also reached out to our airport taxi union that they did both training with the Ministry of Health and they also did a training with BTB to ensure that they can meet the various standards. We will only allow vehicles from the Gold Standard hotels and operators. We’ll only use the taxi to move people from the airport. For people coming to meet on their own right now we don’t have – basically the way we look at it is that we’re not going to allow any outside vehicles to come here except those that have been actually certified.”
Reporter: What consideration is in place for people who come with private vehicles to pick up ?
Enrique Hoar, Manager of Operations: “Well what you’ll do is afford them a drop off point somewhere at the junction of the northern highway and the airport as a point. We can also look at the roundabout for the new John Smith bypass that’s another location for them to be dropped off from. It’s just to basically say that you’ll leave the hotel in a certified transportation and then from there then they’ll be taken home but we prefer taking them straight to their locations so that we can verify with the authorities that these people were taken to the address that was provided.”