Senators today debated the introduction of self-service passport control and kiosks at the airport as a move either to boost tourism or earn the ire of immigration officers.
As the 17 kiosks go through a trial run, lawmakers in the upper house of Parliament were seeking to amend the Immigration Act to make their operation legally compliant.
Senator Rudy Grant who has held senior posts as both policymaker and private sector executive in tourism reported that the trial was being undertaken in a very positive and meaningful way.
Senator Grant said: “We continue to work therefore to ensure that yes, we bring more visitors to Barbados, but we also work to ensure that we are able to enhance the experience and that experience starts at the airport.
“It is critical that we do not take any chances. It is critical that we do not compromise this very important industry. Of course the expectation is that as we seek to engage in the [Barbados] Economic Recovery and Transformation programme that tourism will take the lead and we will continue through these types of measures to facilitate continued enhancement in the performance of the industry and to ensure that we continue to provide an enhanced visitor experience.”
The kiosks are expected to decrease the waiting time for arriving passengers, while freeing up immigration officers for other duties
But speaking for labour interests, Senator Toni Moore, the general secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union, complained that immigration officers had not been consulted prior the kiosks’ introduction.
Senator Moore said that although she supported the amendment, she was unhappy that legislation was being debated before the officers had been engaged.
She stressed that the BWU did not represent immigration officers, whose bargaining agent is the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW).
Senator Moore said: “Where my concern comes and perhaps it may only be a concern for those who speak for labour and the workers themselves, is that we hear a lot about enhancing the tourism experience, we hear a lot about the implications that this one area has for a number of other areas, and yes we heard about the plans for training.
“What we have not heard about as we contemplate how the amendment may facilitate the performance of industry and improving visitors experience . . . is what engagement has taken place at that level before the introduction of an amended piece of legislation.”
She told fellow senators that she had heard that a meeting was scheduled for next week to inform immigration officers of the proposed changes.
But Senator Grant countered that he was reliably informed that immigration officers had been consulted.
Senator Grant said: “I would not want it to be understood that there was no consultation with the relevant offices. I have been reliably informed that there would have been consultation which took place every step of the way and that in this case the Immigration Department was consulted with respect to the introduction of the kiosks.”
But the labour leader maintained that those officers stationed at the airport had not been consulted.
Senator Moore said: “The Immigration Department at the level of the workers and their representatives, that’s where I always go. I don’t speak for the directors in Immigration, those who are holding office.
“I speak on behalf of the workers and their representatives that have not been engaged and if I am misleading this House, the workers and the people who are going to be on the frontline have not been engaged, that is what I am saying.
“We want to make sure at all times, that we don’t treat to these matters as if there are afterthoughts, but that consultation takes place.”
She added that there was nothing to be gained in doing the right thing in the wrong way.
Government Senator Rudolph Greenidge also sought to dispel the suggestion that the kiosks would not serve a meaningful purpose.
He said the technology would allow for an easier and smoother entry process while raising the level of security at the airport.
Senator Greenidge said: “What mostly concerns . . . is whether this initiative at the airport with those 17 kiosks… turns out to be more efficient than what presently obtains. Will it improve passenger satisfaction I believe so. Will it improve the ease and the speed of doing business I believe so.
“My position then is this: If what we are doing here makes absolutely no sense and is in no way positive then by all means criticise us for what we are doing.
“I believe that by using these you may be able to identify people who are on a no-fly list, wanted persons, persons who are a threat to security, because of the linkage with the kiosks at Barbados and the kiosks in other parts of the world.”
Senator Grant, a former chief executive of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) as well as a former parliamentary secretary of the Ministry of Tourism, said it was important that while legislation was being passed to help upgrade the tourism sector, it was important that infrastructure also be upgraded.
He said there had been an increase in the number of rooms which Barbados had to offer as well as an increase in the quality of those rooms.
While the country benefited from the recent opening of Sandals Royal, it was also expected that the Sands hotel will open sometime this winter season, along with The Beaches by Sandals, and Abidah by Accra, which is also expected to start operation during this winter season, he said.