Airlines ‘might demand comeback cash’ to resume caribbean flights

(Barbados Today) – Caribbean governments should not be surprised if international airlines want to be paid to resume flights following the COVID-19 shutdowns, Hugh Riley, retired secretary-general of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) has said.

Riley said payment for airlift was a likely consequence given the heavy losses airlines have endured as a result of the global pandemic.

Addressing a webinar hosted by the Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business on the economy, Riley told participants: “Airlines are talking about fee waivers and there is going to be a lot of demand for financial support for the aviation industry. Governments are starting to see that already.

“There is going to be a shift in the balance between airline seating destinations to fly to and destinations paying airlines to come.

“That is how the balance will be shifted. It is a tough pill to swallow but that is the reality.”

The tourism consultant, principal with the PM Group, explained that airlines have also urged regional governments to harmonise their post-COVID-19 protocols to make flying to the region less cumbersome when the destinations reopen.

He said: “The airlines have already said to the region that there must be harmonisation of protocols. Nobody is going to be trying to remember which island has which protocol. No one will be hopscotching through a whole maze of these protocols. If you can harmonise them, you stand a greater chance of success.”

Offering some background to the importance of the tourism industry to the region, Riley said in 2019 a record 31.5 million visitors came to the Caribbean by air and about half of them came from the United States. More than two million jobs in the Caribbean are dependent on the travel and tourism industries.

And in preparation for a resumption of tourism, Riley said consumer sentiment trends suggested that travellers are likely to stick close to home, travelling only if they can be persuaded they will feel comfortable about their health and safety.

“There is no agreement yet on targeting for a vaccine, so testing and sanitation protocols and procedures and the health of travellers will clearly be focused on because no one will want to travel without those protocols and procedures in place,” he noted.

According to the consultant, consumers who feel emotionally connected to a brand are likely to be among the first to return.

“The familiars are likely to come back first. They are the ones who are familiar with the region. They have been here and it is not an unknown for them. Repeat visitors… and property owners who have a stake in the destination and those in the diaspora will also be returning.”

Riley also told participants: “In the past, people in the accommodation sector believed [the diaspora traveller] is just going to come home and stay with their aunt. Many people in the diaspora don’t have a relative to come and stay with. They come and stay in hotels and other accommodation just like everybody else. And those who come and stay with their cousin or their aunt, they spend money, rent cars, go out to eat, they contribute and their money goes straight into the economy.

“The romantic traveller will also likely return early, and special interest groups, but all depends on people’s financial security. About 40 million people in the United States are now out of work. And if you are concerned about your financial situation, you are not likely to choose a vacation away from home.”