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From high airfares to connectivity between the islands, the ease of moving among through the Caribbean continues to be a sore point for those who live in the region and those who visit.
Speaking at the Caribbean Travel Forum at this year’s Travel Marketplace, Nicola Madden-Greig, President of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, said that inter-Caribbean connectivity is deteriorating.
Statistics provided by ForwardKeys for the first quarter of 2023 showed that capacity for inter-regional travel was down by 10 percent compared to 2019.
She said the CHTA has been speaking to their stakeholders on the issue and work needs to be done.
She pointed, however, to some positive signs with the coming onstream of new airlines in the region and the expansion of others.
“Arajet started expanding life out of Dom Rep to Jamaica and other destinations, they have actually increased lift into Jamaica and have a very aggressive plan for growth. InterCaribbean is also looking to expand their service. Caribbean Airlines is in their planning stages as well so it is a little slower than we would have wanted based on the statistics we presented. It hasn’t gone back to 2019 levels but we are seeing a lot of energy and action being put on and planned,” she said.
She noted that the CHTA worked with CAL and Copa to get discounted rates to fly members in for the Travel Marketplace in Barbados. She said engaging destinations around special events, regional conferences, and other large activations will help to ensure effective yields.
“We are looking to see how we can work with our partners more closely to do more events, more trade shows, and more activities in the region. Events are a big driver in the Caribbean,” she said.
Madden-Greig also believes that regional carriers need to engage in joint strategies to increase airlift and promote an aggressive strategy for multi-destination packaging working with international carriers.
Olivier Ponti, Vice President of Insights for ForwardKeys, said airlift is a global problem thanks to the pandemic and he does not think the situation in the Caribbean is worrying.
“There are still some staffing issues for airlines, plane manufacturers are having massive delays in delivering the planes they already sold. So there is an issue on the supply side,” he said, addressing the issue of high airfare.
Pointier said inter-regional connectivity is affected by the need for airlines to operate routes that are more profitable.
“Towards the end of last year, inter-regional capacity was back to pre-pandemic levels and long haul or extra-regional travel was already above 2019 levels. So we are saying that some airlines have decided to use some of the inter-regional flights for extra-regional flights…simply because fares are going up and there is more money to be made there,” he said.
The cost and ease of inter-regional travel was a headline topic at the Travel Marketplace held in Puerto Rico last October.
Asked what progress has been made since then, Hayden Bryan, Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation said they are working closely with the Caribbean Development Bank which was mandated by CARICOM to a report looking at immediate and long-term solutions.
He stressed while tourism is a major factor in connectivity, the issue also affects trade and family travel.
He said some countries such as Cayman Islands, where he is the Minister of Tourism, have their own airlines and have met with the CDB to discuss short-term solutions while they figure out the long-term solutions.
“Obviously you expect the private sector to fill that gap but they are having their own challenges over the last two years due to Covid. Loss of pilots, fuel costs have gone up, while the industry is trying to rebalance itself we are trying to find some short-term solutions,” he said, revealing that he has been in talks with Barbados about a possible direct connection from Cayman Islands.
Bryan said he has also been talking to his colleagues about re-examining their financial models.
“In the past many Caribbean islands moved away from the revenue guarantee approach. With the cost of travel being so expensive, in the best interest of tourism, we may have to examine that again, especially for those islands that do not have their own airlines. In order to attract a company to come service an island, unless it is profitable for themselves, it is a chicken and egg type of situation. Maybe you do it for the short term not for the long term where you build the traffic back and then go back to general revenue based on the demand of the destination,” he said.
Bryan said the topic will be discussed at an upcoming CTO meeting in New York.
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