Commentary: Tourism Matters: Air travel within the Caribbean

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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

Our tourism planners have a major task ahead of them unless significant changes in terms of availability, connectivity and reduced cost for air travel within the Caribbean takes place.

On a recent return flight from Barbados to St Maarten the price of my return ticket was US$740 to attend the just concluded Caribavia conference.

Making up this astronomical fare were the following non-directly related airline costs:
Barbados Airport Service charge (BGI-ANU) – US$70; (second departure tax introduced October 2018); FIS – US$8.75; Security Service charge (BGI-ANU) – US$8.75; Barbados Passenger Service charge (first departure tax) – US27.50; Barbados Security Fee – US$3.20; Barbados Ticket Tax (Value Added Tax) – BGI-ANU – US$44.45;
Barbados PFC (Passenger Facility Charge) – US$1.50 plus another Barbados Ticket Tax – (BGI-ANU) – US$33.60, totaling an amount of US$209 in Barbados Government charges.

To reach St Maarten necessitated a change of aircraft in both directions in Antigua and Barbuda, and a prolonged stop in Guadeloupe on the return, making the journey nearly four hours in each direction before adding check-in and delay times.

What immediately stands out is when the second departure tax (Airline Travel and Development Fee) was announced last year, it was clearly stated that travel within the region would be at the lower rate of US$35 and not the US$70 added to flights outside of the Caribbean; yet US$70 has been charged, at least on my ticket (record locator ACR73R).

Also, we are currently one of the only countries within the region to pay VAT (Value Added Tax) for flights emanating from Barbados; so both the outward and return carry the 17.5 percent levy on the base return fare total of US$466 which amounts to US$78.

While the future, (if there is one) of LIAT (1974) Ltd lies in the balance, any new majority owner and operator has to take a long and careful look at every single route and its average loadings.

On my flight, we had a stop in Guadeloupe which was delayed, supposedly by an additional security check. This is difficult to understand as apart from the lengthy conversation the private security personnel had with the flight attendants, only around five minutes were spent on inspecting the interior of the aircraft.

The delay though, of 35 minutes plus, was long enough to disgorge just seven passengers and take on another five, plus one infant. Sufficient time however, to ensure all the vast majority of people left onboard were made hot and sweaty on the plane for their onward journey, due to the lack of provision of any auxiliary ventilation.

Just how cost effective delivering and collecting such a tiny number of passengers, when taking landing fees and other costs levied into consideration certainly needs to be investigated, especially when other carriers operate on the same route with either one or no stops.

Of course, these are all questions that any serious management should have been asking for decades, prior to pumping millions of taxpayer’s dollars into the airline.

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