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.
I make no apologies of staying with the subject of implementation, or rather the lack of it this week, because I feel it remains the single biggest impediment to returning our tourism industry to viability and restoring previous levels of long stay visitor arrivals.
What prompted these latest thoughts was scanning through various media coverage quoting several named Government officials and politicians, stating that by the end of the year, Grantley Adams International Airport would receive Category One status. The trouble being that the press articles referred to were printed in 2007. Here we are six years later, with the same proclamations being made in the same publications.
Of course, it’s not just the aviation issue, but the much vaunted Tourism Master Plan, the restructuring or the Barbados Tourism Authority, an all-embracing Hotel Refurbishment Fund and so on and on. According to the organisation charged with the responsibility of making the new St. Vincent and the Grenadines airport a reality, the International Airport Development Company (IADC) state on their website, that ‘the new Argyle Airport is expected to come operational in 2014’. Just months away from opening and I wonder what impact , especially financially, it will have on any plans there may be for our own airport (GAIA Inc.). Already GAIA Inc., has been negatively affected by reduced passenger arrivals and the use of smaller aircraft into Barbados, resulting in diminishing revenue generation. Not only directly, but for it’s tenants, concessions and service providers.
There is sometimes so much misinformation disseminated in the media about tourism, it becomes even more important that the facts prevail. It’s official. Our neighbour, St. Lucia, overtook us for the first four months of this year, in terms of United States long stay visitor arrivals. Despite having a much smaller room stock, St. Lucia welcomed 43,335 American visitors between January and the end of April, an increase of 6.6 per cent, when compared with the same period in 2012. Barbados recorded 42,516 for the identical four months, a decline of 11.9 per cent.
The trend continues with the addition of a new weekly flight nonstop United Airlines service from Newark, adding another 3,000 plus seats during the second half of 2013. So there is little doubt that St. Lucia will still be ahead in this market, by year end. Newark Liberty Airport, offers for many, a more convenient access than JFK or La Guardia in the TriState area, one of the most populous urban agglomerations in the world. It is also United’s third largest hub after Houston and Chicago with the St. Lucia flight connecting with 22 US cities plus a number in Canada, increasing travel options and reducing overall journey times.
Submitted by Mahogany Coconut Think Tank and Watchdog Group
Hon Ronald Jones, Minister of Education
Richard Sealy, Minister of Tourism
We usually try to avoid commenting on the empty statements of the current breed of politicians entrusted with the development of the Caribbean. However, as a responsible watchdog group, we are totally dumbstruck by recent statements of the Barbados Minister of Tourism, Mr. Richard Sealy, who claims that the St. Lucia tourism product is lagging that of Barbados by some thirty years. We are equally supportive of the stance taken by the St. Lucia Minister of Tourism; Mr. Lorne Theophilius that he will not engage in any spat with his Barbadian counterpart but prefers to look at the industry from a regional perspective. This is in keeping with our view of regional economic development.
Minister Sealy must understand that if St Lucia is making great gains, in the industry, it is a reward to their tourism planners, and the people of St Lucia. It is also a significant gain for the Caribbean economies, that we have another player in the global leisure industry.
Please check the statistics below that I got earlier today from the Caribbean Tourism Organisation. For ease of scrutiny, Barbados is highlighted in green and St. Lucia is in red. Also look at the % market share and the decline in arrivals this year from the UK for both countries.
Actually, so far this year, our market share has increased, while St. Lucia’s has declined. These stats need no analysis, they are clear. Barbados is ahead of St. Lucia vis-à-vis all arrivals, including those from the UK.
So, I really do not know where Mia Mottley, Clyde Mascoll, Mrs.Patricia Affonso-Dash from the BHTA, and Mr. Omniscience, aka Peter Wickham, got their figures. They have been telling Barbadians that we are slipping to St. Lucia, and that St. Lucia’s arrivals from the UK are growing by leaps and bounds.
In fact, Wickham stated emphatically the last two Mondays that he was on VOB’s Brass Tacks call-in programme, that all the other tourist destinations in the Eastern Caribbean were doing better than Barbados. We had reached our nadir. Well, check for yourself. Statistics don’t lie, political prostitutes do.
‘Britons travelling long haul are beginning to forsake traditional seven-night beach holidays in favour of packing different experiences into one trip’.
That is the conclusion of the latest Long Haul Trend Report published recently by Hayes and Jarvis, one of the UK’s oldest established and most successful tour operators, specialising in long haul holidays and who are now part of the TUI Travel empire. It also reveals ‘that the destinations making waves in 2013 are ones which lend themselves to a combination of city, beach and culture or heritage tours’. For the sales period January-May 2013, their bestselling destinations are: 1) New York, 2) Las Vegas, 3) Thailand, 4) The Maldives, 5) Mexico, 6) Mauritius, 7) Dubai, 8) California, 9) Kenya and 10) St. Lucia.
And the fastest growing destinations for the same period:
1) Vietnam, 2) Brazil, 3) Kenya, 4) Tanzania, 5) South Africa, 6) Egypt, 7) New York, 8) Dominican Republic, 9) Las Vegas and 10) Mauritius.
If any single statement made so far this year, should have sent a wake-up call to our tourism policymakers, it perhaps was the one made recently by the President of the Barbados Bankers Association (BBA), Horace Cobham at a luncheon meeting of the Chamber of Commerce.
‘That of all the commercial bank loans that were more than three months behind (non-performing), 43 per cent were from hotel and tourism clients’.
Not only is this a damning indictment of the state of our most important foreign currency earner but what compounds the seriousness of the situation, is the timing. Traditionally, most tourism enterprises make their monies in terms of revenue and profits during the four winter months. Once you get past Easter, both occupancy and average room rates plummet in most cases. Therefore, simply put, if such a large percentage are struggling to keep up with loan repayments now, imagine what it could be like by October or November.
Click image to read the delectable package the St. Lucia Tourist Board has put together.
Many have started to take take notice of the growth St. Lucia is experiencing in tourism. This is at a time when the global market is tough especially the UK market. Recent reports suggests “strong tourism growth for Saint Lucia in 2012 with a 20% increase in stay over arrivals in the first quarter of this year. Top source markets to the island report 9% increase from the U.S., the largest market to Saint Lucia, and a 30% increase over the same period from the United Kingdom.” – RSL.
Click on the image to read about one of the marketing tactics St. Lucia is using to woo tourists with success!
BU has led the call for academics on the ‘Hill’ to speak out on the many issues which are at play in our society. The challenge it seems is that many of them can be tarred by a political brush if we are to judge by their public offerings. What purpose is learning if it cannot be shared dispassionately to enrich the human space we occupy?
Recently Dr. Brian Francis, a lecturer at Cave Hill, UWI, generated a furious debate triggered by a post-Budget discussion, when he ‘knocked’ the recent budget delivered by Minister of Finance Sinckler. Again BU was forced to ask – was Francis providing analysis as an economist or a partisan leaning academic?
A man carries a child while wading across a flooded street during the passing of Hurricane Tomas in Leogane, Haiti, 05 Nov 2010 - APPhoto
There is a lot we could write about who is to be blamed for the late notification of Storm TOMAS which wreaked havoc on Barbados last weekend. Funny enough the other islands to the North have had more time to prepare but it did not seem to have prevented lives and property from being loss. What was easily ascertained from listening to and observing Barbadians before, during and after Storm TOMAS was the high level of lethargy, complacency, even ignorance demonstrated. The ready excuse must be that Barbados has not experienced any significant weather system since Janet 1955. The folly of such a position would have been exposed two weeks earlier when heavy rains precipitated significant flooding in Barbados. Perhaps, just perhaps TOMAS would have served as a wake-up call for Barbadians who have become fat and lazy caused by a mindset ‘dah cyan happen hey’.
The fact that perennial sufferer Haiti was spared the brunt of Hurricane TOMAS is little consolation. “Haitian officials say before Tomas weakened into a tropical storm, hurricane rains triggered flooding and mudslides that killed at least six people.” Barbadians may also want to understand the plight of St. Lucians who as far as we are aware have had no running water for the past week because of significant damage to a Dam. People also perished and hundreds of houses have been damaged or destroyed. St. Vincent has also been badly affected. Some Barbadian organizations have mobilized to provide relief to our neighbours.
Back to Haiti which is known to be the poorest country in the world if measured in economic terms. In January 2010 Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake which has seen over a million people living in Tent Cities and many others displaced. As a consequence of the inevitable unsanitary conditions over two hundred and fifty Haitians died of Cholera last month. This is a people who know suffering.
What has been difficult to accept by BU about the Haitian Saga post-earthquake has been the failure of the international relief bodies to effectively and efficiently distribute the aid which was freely given by the world all those months ago. The suffering is too much.
The CARICOM initiative which saw former Prime Minister of Jamaica the Most Hon PJ Patterson appointed to draft a report on the way forward seems to have suffered from the accustomed CARICOM malady. In a recent address Patterson outlined the reconstruction effort but what about the suffering NOW?
Contrast what Patterson is saying to what NGO people are saying on the ground.
It seems the recent statement attributed to Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Kamla Persad-Bissessar has created a furore across the region. It is understandable for people to become emotional at this time when St. Lucians and Vincentians are in obvious distress. It may come as a surprise that BU see nothing wrong with the meaning behind Kamla’s position. Perhaps her message was twisted by a media which is always on the hunt to sensationalize news of late.
This afternoon we received an email highlighting special airfares from the United States and Canada to St. Lucia. It read:
‘Airfare Sales to St. Lucia from US$99 each way’ ‘Sample round-trip fares for Summer. American Airlines, JetBlue or Delta – New York – $198 – Boston – $312 – Washington (DC) – $292 – Baltimore – $282 – Charlotte – $360 and Chicago – $312 West Jet and Air Canada – Toronto – $298’
Not having seen these airfares before earlier this year, I then went of to American Airlines website and found a one way airfare of US$89 from New York to Barbados for travel in May.
Looking at the recently released forward hotel occupancy levels for this summer, I then went onto our national tourism website and was surprised not to find any links to details of these special fares. In fact on the site only two airlines are mentioned, US Airways and Air Canada, and I understand we have already lost the US Airways Philadelphia service.