Sun, sand, surf and potential profitability are not enough to make a destination a winner, according to airline representatives from Air Canada, Air France, JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic during a panel session at the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s State of the Industry Conference in St. Martin, held Sept. 13 to 18.
Destination marketing and strong local and regional partnerships as well as efficient airports are critical to a carrier’s success, they said.
Most airlines have a long list of potential routes, according to Chad Meyerson, JetBlue’s director of global sales. “We have 50 under consideration at any given time,” he said.
Because decisions to open a route usually are made a year in advance, Meyerson pointed to the importance of relationships built through site visits and one-on-one discussions with tourism boards, airport authorities, governments and other key players.
Edmund Rose, Virgin Atlantic’s director of commercial and revenue planning, highlighted the critical role that an airport can play.
“It must be responsive to carriers’ needs and be willing to utilize the experience that carriers have in dealing with customers’ requirements in airports all over the world,” Rose said.
He added that high airport taxes are “a disincentive to doing business in a market.”
A local airport’s interest, the nature of competition in a market, links with the community (including the diaspora) and the potential for return traffic also are critical factors, according to Vijay Bathija, Air Canada’s senior director of network planning.
“We need more connections and less connection time,” said Veronique Moulin, international route manager for the Caribbean for Air France-KLM.
The carrier executives advised tourism authorities to work with airlines to communicate to customers in each airline’s home market and to organize fam trips for travel agents and media.
“The airline industry is notoriously cyclical,” Bathija said. “It is both a leading and a lagging economic indicator. Airline travel is among the first things consumers cut from their budget, and the last to return.”
Weighing in on the importance of cooperation among players in the region’s travel and tourism sectors were several regional carriers, as well.
Brian Challenger, CEO of regional airline LIAT, said, “Removing hurdles to intra-Caribbean travel would be a big first step toward making travel work and helping resolve constraints faced by air travelers.”
Hurdles to regional travel include economic conditions, regulatory barriers, technical challenges and the cost of regional travel.
Challenger pointed out that factors influencing the high cost of air travel include fuel, labor, maintenance, taxation and government charges as well as the fragmented regional markets.
Ian Burns, CEO of regional carrier RedJet, pointed out that the airlines themselves are the major hurdles to making travel efficient within the region.
“It is essential that the consumer comes first, and RedJet builds everything around the average consumer,” Burns said.