The Adrian Loveridge Column – Tourism is OUR Business
If I needed to be reminded for a single second that our policymakers, planners, politicians and private sector partners need to work closer together across the Caribbean, then it was at the recently concluded 4th annual Caribavia Aviation Meetup held in Saint Maarten.
I doubt a solitary speaker or attendee at that conference returned home with anything other than the same conclusion. Among the topics extensively discussed was the excessive taxation by Government’s, which were proving to be one of the single largest deterrents to growing tourism.
While the overwhelming positives outweighed the negatives, many of us were left with the disappointment that more of the key decision makers across the region did not make the effort to attend as they could well have hugely enhanced their knowledge and ability to increase their own individual destination numbers.
For Barbados, we have in the past been able to boast that the Caribbean was our third largest source market, but unless the subject of airlift is addressed quickly and effectively, it is almost impossible to imagine that this will continue.
As the widely recognized doyen of tourism, Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace CBE., graphically pointed out at the event – as he has on many previous occasions – proximity and connectivity are two of the most critical factors in air transport.
Simply put, that potential visitors on your doorstep can provide some of the greatest arrival opportunities, providing they can reach the destination with more affordable ticket prices. None of this of course, is a revelation or ground-breaking news, as it’s widely accepted as a fact of life in all other source markets.
When lower airfares are made available from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Europe, then increased numbers will travel to the Caribbean, yet many in critical decision making positions, do not seem to fully understand or embrace this within our region.
Few can seriously dispute the fact that low cost carriers have dramatically grown airlift into the Caribbean and you only have to cite jetBlue as a classic example. Our United States visitor arrival numbers stagnated for almost a decade until replacement key marketing personnel were brought into place and negotiated new or existing routes with various airlines. Westjet out of Canada is another case in point. And to a lesser extent Thomas Cook Airlines, with their seasonal services, from Manchester and Gatwick, which provides a less expensive flight option to many of our second home owners and shared accommodation offerings.
Ultimately, our politicians and policymakers will have to carefully weigh the overall tax collection benefits earned from visitors who are deterred by high airfares. Conversely, those who are tempted to our shores and pay VAT, room levies, DTS (direct tourism services) levies, shared accommodation levies and all the various additional taxes collected as a direct result of increased employment it creates.
Returning to the subject of working together, I believe there is also vast untapped potential if we partner with some of our neighbours. Enticing new carriers with triangle airline routes offers a low and shared risk possibility, especially with long haul carriers. If we are ever going to persuade Scandinavian airlines back to Barbados, it may be the only feasible way to attract their high cost-of-living population and where comparative on-island prices are not so inhibitive as many other markets.