BASSETERRE, St Kitts (CUOPM) -- Continuing high fuel prices continue to create havoc in the airline and cruise ship industry and are affecting intra-regional travel and cruise passengers to the region, outgoing chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), Sen. Richard “Ricky” Skerritt said last Wednesday.
He told delegates and local stakeholders to CTO’s State of the Industry Conference that the ongoing raises in the price of fuel have dramatically impacted both the airlines and the cruise lines that serve the Caribbean region.
“In response to the double whammy of increased taxation and higher fuel costs, airlines have done the natural thing – raise ticket prices, implement new fees and pass the cost on to passengers. Cruise lines on the other hand, have slowed down their sailing speeds and minimized the use of airline seats in their own travel packages. This has resulted in the stifling of home-porting in our region, new itineraries with shorter cruising distances from more US mainland home-ports and reduced market share for the islands of the southern Caribbean,” said Skerritt, who is also St Kitts and Nevis Minister of Tourism and International Trade.
He disclosed that during the past year, CTO has successfully lobbied the FCCA against any further reduction in summer cruising, which was being caused by an increasing redeployment of ships away from the Caribbean to Europe.
“I am pleased to let you know that last week, at a meeting in Curacao, the FCCA announced that their operations committee has actively begun exploring ways and means to rebuild summer cruising in our region,” said Skerritt, who pointed out that all this has taken place at the same time that too many Caribbean people are being robbed of the opportunity to visit each other wherever and whenever they want to.
“Every year, approximately 1.5 million Caribbean travellers do business with each other, party together, join our loved ones at family events, disappear for a weekend getaway, or jump to our heart’s content at incredible carnivals, festivals and sporting events. But, for the past six years, those numbers have been falling,” said Skerritt.
He disclosed that, between 2006 and 2011, the OECS countries alone welcomed 115,000 fewer Caribbean visitors.
“Colleagues, we simply cannot afford for our own domestic travel market to be stifled any further, as our smaller hotels and guest houses are hurting badly from the slowdown in intra-Caribbean business, and we owe it to all travel consumers to provide the means to travel across our region as frequently and as cost-effectively as possible,” said Skerritt, pointing out that there are a variety of reasons for the decline in intra-Caribbean air travel.
“The global economic downturn has certainly affected our region severely; the high cost of travel tickets is a major deterrent; poor interline connectivity; inconsistency of the service that our regional airlines and airports deliver; the immigration barriers we erect; and the over-zealous obsession by our security officials to check and recheck our own Caribbean people to the point of what can sometimes be described as willful harassment. All these factors serve as potential inhibitors to travel within our region and provide understandable excuses for prospective travelers to stay at home or to make a decision to travel elsewhere,” said the St Kitts and Nevis tourism official.