Commentary: Tourism Matters: Majority ownership in LIAT

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Adrian Loveridge has spent 52 years in the tourism industry across 67 countries, as a travel agent, tour director, tour operator and for the last 24 years as a small hotel owner on Barbados. He served as a director of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, and as chairman of the Marketing Committee. He also served as a director of the Barbados Tourism Authority and is a frequent writer on tourism

By Adrian Loveridge

After trying to avoid the subject intentionally for many years, is it now the time to focus all our attention that any change in the proposed majority beneficial ownership in LIAT (1974) Ltd could bring?

Following a whole pile of forays into competing with LIAT over the past couple of decades, which included Carib Express, RedJet, Caribbean Star and Sun, is now an opportune time to tempt other private sector airlines into our marketplace, to finally give some real competition and drive down fares?

To our south, the discovery and exploitation of substantial oil deposits off the coast of Guyana is already dramatically changing accommodation offerings and basic infrastructure.  Additional airlift is already in place and this will only grow over the next few years.

Time will tell if the government of Guyana will plan for long term benefit of its citizens and channel some of this vast revenue into a sovereign wealth fund, like Norway did, which is now the largest of its kind in the world.

To the north, privately owned airlines like InterCaribbean Airways are continuing to expand and are currently pushing south as far as Saint Lucia. Their aircraft fleet includes eight 30-seat Embraer 120’s, two 19 seat Twin Otters, one nine seat Britten Norman Islander and a Citation Jet which is used for executive charters. The airline presently operates in 22 cities in 13 countries, many of which do not have existing direct or one-stop connections to the south of the region.

The Embraer 120* has a range of 1,750 kilometers or 1,088 miles, with a cruise speed of 298 knots or 343 miles per hour, so ideally suited for mid-distance Caribbean routes. *source Wikipedia.

Winair, the St Maarten based airline, while government-owned, has previously expressed an interest in operating to more southern Caribbean destinations including Barbados. Their fleet includes ATR 42 – 300/320 aircraft with 48 seats which are wet-leased from Air Antilles*.

Air Antilles, the French West Indian carrier, already operates to Barbados, and like Winair, has some existing code-sharing flight partnerships, but could they be encouraged to step-up capacity, especially if that helps feed additional French metropolitan and continental European visitors.

The biggest fly in the ointment might be the past record of various governments and politicians who have interfered in the granting of route rights to airlines, interested in starting services.

A recent example is the civil aviation minister of Saint Lucia, Guy Joseph, pointing out to the media, that a number of airlines were seeking to operate in and out of that island, but encountering difficulties acquiring the requisite licenses.

He went on to add, Saint Lucia has hinted at the possibility of leaving the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) claiming that the Antigua-based organization was hampering the development of the airline industry there.

I think all our policymakers have to be reminded that across the Caribbean, our hotels only managed an average annual occupancy of 63 percent in 2018.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there.

Every other tourism-related business is negatively affected by those empty rooms and massive employment opportunities lost, with its profound economic consequence across the Caribbean.

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