There are fresh calls for a regional carrier at the 7th Annual Caribbean Conference on Sustainable Tourism Development (STC-7). Since the problematic path travelled by Air Jamaica, there are indications that this is what is needed to secure top-flight airlift to the region.
“We cannot have a sustainable tourism industry without a sustainable Caribbean airline,” Hon. Howard Chin Lee, Trinidad and Tobago’s tourism minister told over 300 delegates and guests gathered at the Hilton Tobago for the opening ceremony.
“The region needs a financially viable, regionally owned airline that will function in the interest of the Caribbean; whose top priority will be the region. Such an airline or alliance, whatever its name or composition, will link us to each other and be the umbilical cord between this region and the rest of the world,” Mr. Chin Lee said.
The global airline industry has been plagued by financial problems sparked by the events of September 11, 2001, and compounded by rising fuel prices.
Regional carriers including Air Jamaica, BWIA and LIAT have accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, with Air Jamaica’s chairman Dr. Vin Lawrence saying the carrier faces possible closure as part of a restructuring exercise.
Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), Hon. Orville London called on Caribbean governments and private sector to work together to find solutions to the regional airlines’ woes.
“I do not need to remind any of you here that the airline industry worldwide remains in crisis. We are all painfully aware of the hundreds of millions of dollars expended by the public and private sectors in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and other Caribbean countries, in less than successful efforts to re-invigorate national and semi-regional airlines,” Mr. London said.
“Caribbean governments must tackle the issue of one regional airline, once and for all. BWIA has failed; Air Jamaica has failed; LIAT has failed. The Governments and the people of the region are paying the price in money, in inconvenience, but, most critically, in lost opportunities,” the chief secretary told delegates. “The governments of the region have a responsibility to fix the problem, to fix it right, and to fix it quickly for the people’s sake.”
Other addresses at the opening came from Hon. Neil Wilson, tourism secretary at the THA, Karen Ford-Warner, acting secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), and Dr. Ruben Silie, secretary general of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS).
Mr. Wilson stressed the developments that have taken place in the local tourism sector over the past 40 years, telling the audience that tourism on the island is currently booming.
“Demand has almost overtaken supply. Occupancy levels at most accommodation properties are high and there is full employment on the island,” the tourism secretary said.
Meantime, Dr. Silie spoke of the collaboration between the two organisations in organising the conference and the relationship dates back to the founding of the ACS.
“I must highlight the brotherly collaboration, which grows stronger year after year with the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, Founding Observer of the ACS, in preparing and convening successive editions of this joint conference,” Dr. Silie said.
“The symbiosis between the ACS and the CTO is an increasingly tangible reality that pursues stronger collaboration in the area of Tourism, by focussing attention on the three salient angles of sustainable development as this has been internationally defined and accepted by the entire international community, due in great part to the tenacious action of our developing countries in various international forums.”
In her opening remarks, Mrs. Ford-Warner also emphasised collaboration and cooperation, highlighting the support that the ACS and the European Union have given to this conference.