JHTA president expects ‘mild’ fallout from SIA closure

MONTEGO BAY, St James – While he awaits a tally of the financial impact last week’s almost eight-hour closure of the Sangster International Airport (SIA) had on his members, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association Robin Russell thinks the overall impact will be “mild”.

That assessment is based on what he described as a team effort to minimise stranded travellers’ discomfort.

“There was a lot of work done logistically trying to get the passengers as comfortable as possible. Buses went to Kingston and other things were done,” he told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday.

“Everybody jumped on board to try and mitigate the circumstances,” he added. “A lot of effort was put in to ensure that it wasn’t long-term interruptions.”

Fifteen thousand passengers were affected after a combination of bad weather, ongoing work on the runway and poor contingency planning forced the authorities to halt flights in and out of Montego Bay’s SIA. Some flights were diverted to the Norman Manley International Airport and passengers bussed to Kingston.

Some travellers were lucky enough to get hotel rooms but many camped out at the airport for hours as flights were backed up after the runaway reopened. Many who were interviewed at the SIA were livid.

Minister of Science, Energy, Telecommunications and Transport Daryl Vaz is now awaiting a report from Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett on the fallout within the sector. This, after Vaz demanded and received reports from MBJ Airports Ltd, the operators of SIA; the Airports Authority of Jamaica and the Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority.

On Wednesday, Russell thanked those who he said played a big role in assisting visitors during the hours-long airport runway closure.

“I would like to commend the efforts of the entire JHTA team, transportation, hotels, Minister Vaz, Minister Bartlett who were quick on the point making calls, the JCF [Jamaica Constabulary Force] for escorts that were done, Jamaica Tourist Board for sending representatives, MBJ for keeping everybody abreast, it was just a major thing,” he said.

“Things happen but I think the response of the entire team, the entire country, is what puts confidence in Jamaica. It didn’t just happen and we left it to fix itself,” added Russell.