BWIA Caribbean tour programs set for takeoff

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NEW YORK -- BWIA's recently announced intention to launch a tour operation this spring is another step in a five-year strategic plan that was designed, in the words of its president, Conrad Aleong, "to convert a small Caribbean carrier dedicated to indigenous travel into a carrier with superior service and performance combined with Caribbean warmth."

The plan does not include a commission cut. The airline pays 6% commission, uncapped.

Asked about commissions the day after Delta eliminated base pay, Aleong said BWIA planned no changes. "There would have to be a much stronger reason to cause us to go down in the U.S. We would have to be quite worried about survival."

Aleong said the big U.S. airlines have "less need for agencies than [does] a small carrier like ours. ... Even if everybody goes to zero, we'll probably still have something."

As for the airline's ongoing makeover, he said the early phases called for upgraded service, improved on-time performance, enhanced technology, increased frequencies, more nonstops, and replacement of aircraft.

In interviews here and in Washington, Aleong said the plan also envisions taking the carrier public in the U.S. in 2004.

Many of the early goals have been met, Aleong said, so that the 61-year-old line offers the most flights and most nonstops to the the eastern Caribbean -- with meal service, he rushed to point out.

BWIA serves four North American gateways (Miami, New York, Toronto and Washington) and code shares with United.

New routes will be added as well: twice-weekly direct flights from Washington's Dulles to Caracas via Port-of-Spain, Venezuela, April 11; Port-of-Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, to Paramaribo, Surinam, April 15; and Port-of-Spain to Maturin, Venezuela, June 1.

BWIA also is emphasizing to agents its frequent flyer reciprocity with United, Aleong said. And next winter, BWIA may join the Carib Sky alliance, of which Liat already is a member.

The airline boasts six 737-800s, all less than 2 years old, flying to North America, plus five new Dash 8-300s, used for the short hops in the southern Caribbean. The next step is the addition of an Airbus A340 in June and a second A340 in December, to replace L-1011s on U.K. service.

The new tour operation, to roll out April 15, will launch with rates valid through 2003, Aleong said.

Andrew Compart contributed to this article.

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