Leaders Reveal A destination may have beautiful sun, sand, surf, and potential profitability, but that's not enough to make a destination a winner, according to a panel of leaders from some of the top carriers serving the Caribbean today. In a lively panel, representatives from Air Canada, Air France/KLM, JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic agreed that destination marketing, strong local and regional partnerships, and an "efficient, consultative airport"' were critical to success.
Most airlines have a long list of potential routes, saidChad Meyerson, Director of Global Sales atJetBlue Airways, noting that his company has some 50 destinations under consideration at any given time. With decisions typically taken a year in advance, he pointed to the importance of relationships built through site visits and face-to-face discussions with tourism boards, airport authorities, governments and other key players.
Edmond Rose,Virgin Atlantic'sDirector of Commercial and Revenue Planning, highlighted the critical role an airport can play. "It must be fit for purpose and responsive to consultation with airlines,"' he said. Since airlines have a vast amount of experience with customers in airports all over the world, they can help a destination get the most from its airport. Naturally, he said, high airport taxes are a disincentive to doing business in a market.
Air Canada'sSenior Director of Network Planning,Vijay Bathija,announced his airline's new routes to St Thomas, St Kitts and Curacao, highlighting the importance of the local airport's interest, the nature of competition in the market, links with the community (including the diaspora) and the potential for northbound traffic back to Canada.
The speakers also highlighted the importance of making connections between Caribbean destinations more efficient, and reducing the variance between the islands in admission protocols.
"We need more connections, and less connection time,"' saidVeronique Moulin,International Route Manager for the Caribbean atAir France/KLM.She outlined her company's partnerships with Winair, Liat, Insel Air and Air Antilles Express as examples of success.
The importance of marketing was a consistent theme of all the presentations. Moulin advised destination tourism authorities to work with airlines to communicate to customers in each airline's home market, and to organize familiarization trips for media and travel agents. Myerson added that the speed at which news travels today can make or break a destination's reputation very quickly, pointing to the importance of effective public relations.
The airline industry is notoriously cyclical, Bathija reminded the audience. "It's both a leading and a lagging economic indicator,"' he said, observing that airline travel was among the first things consumers cut from their budget, and the last thing to return.
While realistic about today's challenges, all four panellists expressed optimism. As Rose pointed out, the quality of the Caribbean product is exceptional, and the region can realize its tourism potential through strong partnerships and effective marketing to a wide range of travellers.
Many thanks to Beverly Nicholson-Doty, the U.S. Virgin Islands' Tourism Commissioner, for her energetic moderation of a panel that gave delegates new insights about aviation in the Caribbean.