Condemn Richard Branson’s Bullying and Extortion of Caribbean Governments

Submitted by Tea White

In July this year, Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic announced that it would end its flights to St Lucia on 8 June 2020. This decision was taken because the government of St Lucia refused to agree to Virgin’s demand that they hand over some EC$20 million in subsidies to Branson’s monopoly company over a 3 year period. That such a demand could be made by Virgin Atlantic, whose owner, billionaire Richard Branson, styles himself as ‘friend of the Caribbean’ is an absolute outrage.

St Lucia is a poor Caribbean country with significant levels of poverty, no functioning modern hospital, schools in desperate need of repair and upgrading, a dire lack of social services for the elderly and many other needs among the population. Only in the mind of a criminal, could it be justified that money desperately needed to meet the needs of the people to St Lucia should instead be handed over to a billionaire and his millionaire shareholders.

Virgin Atlantic already charges passengers around £1000 to fly to the Caribbean from London during peak seasons and generally charges passengers starting their journey in the Caribbean up to 80% more than those starting their trip in London. There is no justification for any Caribbean government to give Virgin Atlantic one single penny.

Virgin Atlantic’s extortion doesn’t apply just to St Lucia. According to Ernest Hilaire from the St Lucia Labour Party, Virgin Atlantic has demanded in total some EC$21 million per year from the following Caribbean countries: Antigua, Saint Lucia, Grenada and Barbados.

All people of conscience should condemn Richard Branson and his Virgin Atlantic’s bullying and extortion of Caribbean governments.

Virgin Atlantic can be contacted on:

Telephone: +44 (0)344 8110 000


The Adrian Loveridge Column – Branson Dumps Virgin

Sir Richard Branson

As I approach my 52nd year involved in the tourism industry, I have been privileged to work either directly or indirectly with two persons who I consider pioneers of the airline sector in modern times. The first, Max Ward of the Canadian carrier Wardair Canada Limited (later Wardair International), where part of my job was to help build new routes with innovative marketing ideas, and second, the late Sir Freddy Laker of Laker Airways and Skytrain who operated one of their B707 aircraft in International Caribbean Airways colours, with the Barbadian flag on the fuselage, initially from Luxembourg and then Gatwick to Barbados up to twice a week. We used to joke about it at the time as being the only airline to fly east to travel west.

At that time Luxembourg was infamous for its low oil, aviation spirit, diesel and petrol prices.

Years later in our British tour operator days we used to divert several of our luxury Kassbohrer Setra coaches via Luxembourg to fill up at the renowned Gasoline (Martelange) Alley on the border with Belgium, saving thousands of Dollars each year in fuel costs.

Whether or not the attraction was cheaper fuel or securing in those days, the monopolistic and virtually impossible traffic rights for fledgling airlines, I probably will never know, but the first large group (72 persons) I personally escorted to Barbados in the nineteen seventies was with Caribbean Airways via Luxembourg.

The other modern day airline hero for me is Sir Richard Branson and while I have never met the Knight of the realm, it seems the only thing we seem to have in common is the same year of birth, albeit the Virgin boss is four months my junior.

Like ours, Sir Richard’s fascination with the Caribbean started decades ago and a common misconception is that the name Virgin came from the British Virgin Islands. In fact, its origin came from one of his earlier music enterprises, when an employee suggested the name, because they were ‘new at business’ or as Sir Richard stated years later ‘I was a bit inexperienced at the time’.

Few other entrepreneurs have contributed so much to growing tourism within our region with the indisputable benefits they have brought us all. So it was with great sadness that I read of Sir Richard’s sale of a substantial percentage of Virgin Atlantic’s shares resulting in the loss of a controlling interest. Especially as it appears to have been acquired by what, he would deem legacy carriers, Air France and KLM in association with Delta.

He has spent almost a lifetime fighting against all airlines protective policies and in many cases frequent Government or more accurately, taxpayer subsidies.

Perhaps the negative effect of Brexit and subsequent fall in the value of Sterling has played a critical role in this decision and we can only hope that the new majority owners will not intensify their interests in other geographical areas to the detriment of the Caribbean.

Neither of these Continental European based airlines currently fly non-stop services to Barbados and during our protracted in-and-out-love affair with Delta servicing Atlanta and New York routes where both have proven unsustainable without massive marketing support.

It is therefore absolutely critical that everything is done to protect existing Virgin routes into the Caribbean and somehow convince these new majority owners that the aircraft cannot be used more profitably elsewhere.

The Adrian Loveridge Column – Supersonic Travel to the Caribbean a Possibility

Adrian Loveridge

Adrian Loveridge

Already nicknamed the ‘Baby Boom’ the planned introduction of a new supersonic jet could yet prove another wonderful opportunity for Barbados and the Caribbean.

Many of us will recall the golden days of British Airways delta wing Concorde arriving early morning into Grantley Adams having left Heathrow, if you allowed for the time zone difference, moments before. One day it presented a wonderful opportunity to photograph an amazing three Concorde’s on the tarmac at the same time, albeit one was an Air France aircraft, simply refuelling enroute to Habana, Cuba.

The new aircraft XB-1 will carry only 45 passengers at a speed of Mach 2.2 (1, 451 miles per hour) or around 10 per cent faster than Concorde was able to fly. The mere fact that Sir Richard Branson is one of the main supporters of this project, a partnership between his offshoot, The Spaceship Company and Boom Technologies gives at least in my mind, a greater possibility of it becoming a reality. Sir Richard has been a great supporter of the region over many years and to give his current Virgin Atlantic passengers the option of a supersonic alternative seems to make absolute sense to me.

The idea behind the involvement of the American based partner was simply put by its Chief Executive Officer and founder, Blake Scholl, who said he ‘was motivated to build a supersonic jet to make it easier to travel greater distances. I’ve got little kids and their Grandpa lives in Hong Kong, which is 18 hours away. They see him once a year and they’ll never be close. It’s because we’re basically flying in the same airplanes we were using when my grandparents were little’.

Many in the aviation world would be quick to contradict that, but in terms of flying speed Mr.Scholl is not too far removed from the truth. Sir Richard’s Spaceship Company will provide a host of other operational services to Boom Technology and in exchange, Virgin will have the option to purchase the first 10 jets.

Boom isn’t of course the only group trying to bring back supersonic travel. A company called Concorde Club says it has enough money to restore a Concorde for use in air shows and for private charters with plans to resume flights sometime in 2019.

European Airbus has filed a patent for its own supersonic jet that can supposedly fly at four times the speed of sound, and Boston based Spike Aerospace is looking to build a US$80 million supersonic plane.

With a distance of 4,200 miles from London’s Heathrow or Gatwick airport to Barbados and largely flying over water without the population concerns over sonic wave noise, we have to be a natural and logical choice above many destinations.

At 1,451 miles per hour, a flying travel time of just three hours must be of enormous appeal to a large number of well heeled British and European visitors and second home owners.

The first XB-1 prototype is expected to take flight late 2017 and be in service for passengers by 2020, so not that far away.

What can ‘we’ do, to help make this a little closer to becoming a reality?

High Expectations for Tourism

Around this time of the year it is difficult not to spare a few thoughts for all those involved in tourism, directly or otherwise, who sacrifice their quality precious time with family to take care of our visitors over the Christmas period. Of course they are not alone with other sectors including the essential services assuming the same responsibility. As someone, through work commitments, who has only celebrated a personal Christmas four times during the past 40 years, my thanks and admiration to you all for your dedication.

There have been many predictions and projections made recently about an anticipated increase in long stay visitors in 2015 when compared with this year. A figure of a 6 per cent rise has been quoted, but I would caution all tourism partners against any complacency they may be lured into. With hopefully Sandals Casuarina re-opening on schedule at the end of January and maintaining an optimistic 90 per cent occupancy level before any rooms are added, this would attract around 24,000 visitors, based on two persons sharing and an average 7 night stay before year end.

According to CTO (Caribbean Tourism Organisation) statistics, Barbados recorded a total of 508,520 stay over visitors in 2013, which was a 5.2 per cent decline when compared with the 2012 figures. Therefore factoring in the potential Sandals and an overall 6 per cent rise would only produce a net gain of 6,500 visitors spread across every other accommodation provider.

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Main Shareholder LIAT Needs to Address the Issue of Increasing Airlift Fast!

Adrian Loveridge - Owner of Peach & Quiet Hotel

Adrian Loveridge – Owner of Peach & Quiet Hotel

It’s always very difficult to write about LIAT with absolute authority, because despite the Barbadian taxpayer being the single largest shareholder in the airline, the public for years has been denied sight of any business plan or annual audited accounts. During the recent spat with a clearly dissatisfied customer, the involvement of Sir Richard Branson and the worldwide attention this generated, LIAT fought back by posting two videos on their website, which have been subsequently removed. Perhaps on reflection, it was thought that it was more productive to address the issues, ie: the complaints, rather than battle with someone that has indefatigably demonstrated they are masters of media exploitation.

What really surprised me in one of the videos, were the numbers quoted by the Director – Commercial and Customer Experience, who stated that the airline operated ‘approximately 100 flights each day’ and carried around ‘3,000 passengers daily’. According to Planespotters, LIAT currently has a fleet of 14 active passenger aircraft with various seating capacities from 37 to 68, but collectively totalling 685. So what immediately stands out is, if the overall numbers are correct, then the average sector flight carries only 30 passengers. That equates to what could be up to 19 empty seats on each flight overall, across the fleet.

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Entrepreneurship Key to ‘Rebirthing’ This Fair Land

An entrepreneur searches for change, responds to it and exploits opportunities

Richard Branson believes an entrepreneur searches for change, responds to it and exploits opportunities

“In plenty and in time of need. When this fair land was young, Our brave forefathers sowed the seed. From which our pride was sprung…”

From time to time in Barbados the debate centres on how Barbadians can enable the landscape for entrepreneurship to flourish. A casual observation confirms that a large and growing Barbados middleclass is of the collin-tie variety. Entrepreneurs who are wired to deliver goods and  service of a world class standard continue to struggle and earn respect in Barbados; in stark contrast to Jamaica, Trinidad and Guyana. In fact we may have a problem defining who is an entrepreneur versus a businessman.

BU suspects for an entrepreneurship culture to take root in Barbados  an old mindset has to be dismantled and be transformed, to become a Barbados where the school, heights and terrace, media etc are respectful of this segment. BU has a view that the socialist model which has served Barbados well in a post Independence period has lost its relevance. A consequence is that a mendicant culture is flourishing. Social benefits have morphed to be entitlements in the perception of many. The end result is that we have reached a point where public expenditure has outpaced our ability to generate matching revenue. Ignore the politicians who disagree!

What will it require to energize a comfortable ‘collin-tie’ class that a different approach is needed if we are to protect the standard living we have become addicted?

Here is one of the world’s best known entrepreneurs extolling on – what is an entrepreneur:

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