Cayman’s Owen Roberts International Airport saw limited activity for the last near-20 months as the country, like the many others around the world, closed its borders when COVID-19 started to spread.
But as of sunrise Saturday, that scenario changed at the airport, sparking a flurry of activity when the country entered Phase 4 of government’s reopening plan.
Cayman Islands Airports Authority CEO Albert Anderson said his team has been preparing for this day for some time.
“We’ve been sort of plodding along over the last year and a half with very, very small numbers of travelers and the team is geared up to deal with the volumes we were dealing with in 2019. So everybody’s happy to see that coming back to that and I think today [Saturday] is a very good day,” he told the Cayman Compass. He added, “everybody’s really excited” and the staff was looking forward to it.
Unlike the days preceding 20 Nov., the arrivals hall at the airport was bustling with families eagerly awaiting their loved ones, excited travellers rushing off to their tropical vacation, and busy airport staff.
Added to the mix were Tortuga representatives with Cayman’s signature rum punch and rum cake, as dancers from Dream Chasers performed. The hall resounded with sweet steel pan as pannists performed local favorites.
Department of Tourism Director Rosa Harris, who together with the Tourism Ministry, orchestrated the all-day welcome festivities Saturday, said they were excited to welcome tourists back to the island.
Obviously, she said, the return is “with caution and huge responsibility in how we handle guests while here”.
“But everyone who got off the first flight [Saturday] morning was super excited, waving, filming all the activities. So we know that Cayman is where they want to be and we’re happy to have them,” she said.
Though this new phase removes the quarantine requirement for vaccinated adult travellers, it institutes mandatory lateral flow testing on day two, five and 10 upon arrival.
Harris said communication is always key to making Cayman’s reopening a success.
“We’ve had a lot of protocols and regulations that came out this week and it’s working through that with our industry and those that sell the Cayman Islands to ensure that travelers know all of the right information, all of the steps and what to do, and just ensure that it’s as easy as possible to go through the steps and we’re here as a partner to communicate on behalf of all of our agencies,” she said.
Anderson also spoke to the change in protocols, saying the CIAA team, together with Customs and Border Control, are working to ensure smooth and safe operations at the airport, which is expected to see more traffic in the coming weeks.
He outlined the steps for travellers after they disembark.
“We had a very defined process, various steps through the arrival hall that has now changed and basically there is one area where you go through a check and if you have a travel declaration, which means you are fully verifiably vaccinated traveler. You go straight into the immigration hall and the process is then normal from there. From there it’s just as it was back in 2019,” he said.
He added there is a new addition, as Customs has installed self service kiosks.
“So people with US, Canadian, British, Caymanian passports can now go to the kiosk, get checked out and move through to immigration a lot quicker. Then baggage claim and so on is exactly the same. When you come outside and if you are again a verifiably, vaccinated passenger, you’re directed to an exit door and you exit as normal. If you’re not one of those passengers, then you go to authorized transport to go to quarantine,” he said.
Each vaccinated traveller also received a lateral flow testing card, which they are to use when they visit a registered testing provider to certify the test result.
Anderson acknowledged the change in pick-up and drop-off at the airport would be a challenge for some, but assured the CIAA is working to make the process more streamlined.
“The new system for drop-off and pick-up is a cross we have to bear. We’re looking at various options of how we can improve that process. But really, and truly to date it hasn’t been tested with a high volume of traffic. Thankfully, I think this is going to grow rather than be a step change. So as it grows, we will see what we need to do to tweak it and make it better, but we will optimize it as best as possible as we go along,” Anderson said.
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