Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

Caribbean tourism groups are regrouping in the wake of of Thomas Cook's demise, particularly in the Eastern Caribbean, where annual arrival numbers included visitors on Thomas Cook packages.

The Caribbean was expecting more than 400,000 travelers from the U.K. and Europe this winter through Thomas Cook, representing a significant portion of the region's more than 30 million annual visitors, according to Patricia Alfonso-Dass, president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association and the manager of Ocean Hotels in Barbados.

"One could argue that the Caribbean's success as one of the world's most desired vacation destinations was made possible because of the business model which Thomas Cook developed years ago," she said.

Thomas Cook operated three weekly flights to Barbados from Manchester in the winter as well as a weekly flight from London Gatwick, providing a total of approximately 27,000 seats each year to the island, according to Kerrie Symmonds, Barbados' minister of tourism and international transport.

In addition, Condor, a subsidiary of the Thomas Cook Group, provided 12,600 seats through its summer and winter business to Barbados from Frankfurt.

Symmonds outlined the steps that Barbados is taking to get these former Thomas Cook travelers to Barbados.

"While in the U.K. recently, I met with the commercial president of Virgin Atlantic, and our discussions were quite satisfactory," he said. "On Oct. 7, the airline announced that we would be the beneficiary of an upgraded number of flights and consequently an upgraded number of seats to Barbados."

Virgin Atlantic has agreed to provide 30,000 seats this winter, according to Symmonds, which more than covers the airlift lost by Thomas Cook.

In addition, Symmonds said he saw opportunities opening up with the launch of Lufthansa's service from Frankfurt to Barbados on Oct 28, estimated to add more than 25,000 seats to Barbados annually.

The Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association will launch a Barbados Cares Campaign to reach out to travelers in the U.K. market whose vacation plans have been disrupted because of the Thomas Cook collapse.

Symmonds pointed out that travelers in the U.K. who have booked vacation packages  are protected under the Air Travel Organizers' License.

"Once those people have been reimbursed, there is still a likelihood they will want to go on a vacation," he said.

"Even if they had not initially chosen Barbados, we want to offer them Barbados as an alternative, to let them know they are welcome, that we understand the difficulty of the circumstances they face and that we're offering them a vacation at discounted rates."

The rates are still under discussion, but as the minister said, "it's better to have the business, even at a discount, then not to have the business at all."

He pointed out that some hotels in Barbados during the winter season averaged more than 60% of their business from Thomas Cook traffic.

The Thomas Cook closure was announced the week that Jamaica was hosting Jamaica Travel Market in London, attended by Jamaica's tourism minister, Edmund Bartlett, minister of tourism and its tourism director, Donovan White.

"We took the opportunity while in London to meet with several of the major tour operators to secure additional airlift to Jamaica from the U.K.," White said, adding that additional flights will be announced shortly.

White said that the Thomas Cook offered seasonal flights to Jamaica from Manchester, England, and Arlanda, Sweden. From November to March this year, he said, the company had 40 departures from those two gateways, totaling more than 13,000 seats.

While there are no immediate plans for the Jamaica Hotel & Tourism Association to mount a campaign, individual properties are working with their partners to continue Jamaica's growth in visitor arrivals, White said.

Already many of the hotels and attractions that had been booked by Thomas Cook clients have been able to rebook these customers.

The impact on St. Lucia is small, according to Beverly Nicholson-Doty, CEO of the St. Lucia Tourism Authority.

The authority has increased its marketing support across key markets, including the U.K., starting with the launch of winter and summer holiday packages and promotions.

"The weekly flight ran from mid-November to mid-March with approximately 160 passengers per flight," Nicholson-Doty said. "The government has had encouraging meetings with other U.K. carriers to pick up the void. We know that demand for St. Lucia from the U.K. is strong and, as such, British Airways has already committed to increasing its flights with two extra weekly services next summer."

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