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AA cutbacks ‘no disaster’ says St Lucia
CASTRIES, St Lucia—Playing down fears that the decision by American Airlines to cut back services here spells disaster for the tourism industry’s summer season, the St Lucia Tourism Board has indicated its strategy has shifted away from paying airline subsidies to stepping up its marketing drive.
While acknowledging the cutback is a cause for concern, the tourism agency said it is looking forward to a summer-time boost in airlift from rival carrier JetBlue. American, which had earlier said it was suspending its Eagle turboprop aircraft services to San Juan, Puerto Rico, from August 21, announced last week that it will also reduce its daily Miami flights to four times weekly.
The flight reductions could mean more than 1,000 fewer visitors here every month. While some hoteliers say it will be disaster for the summer, the St Lucia Tourist Board believes the fears are an exaggeration. “I believe that the scares of a pending disaster is a knee-jerk reaction, I think we have to remain very focused,” Director of Tourism Louis Lewis told journalists.
He said while St Lucia cannot offer subsidies to airlines it instead must be strategic and continue to market the destination. He indicated the strategy has shifted from paying airlines to come to St Lucia to improving the island’s appeal to travellers. “If you are going to proceed with that initiative on the basis of subsidising airlift you know that you are only defeating your purpose as you are likely to run broke very soon.”
Lewis announced that Jet Blue will be putting on additional capacity moving from four times a week to a daily service from June to September, and should that prove successful, the service could be expanded to compensate for the decline in capacity. “We have a very clear strategy with regard to airlift, we know exactly what is required for the destination in terms of accommodation size and we are very focused on implementing that strategy, as it pertains to airlift.
“We come from a situation where we readily subsidised airlift into St Lucia and it cost us dearly on an average of seven to nine million EC dollars a year and we have now moved into a more favourable position where we are focusing more on marketing the destination and it has been holding its own,” he told reporters.
The tourism chief said that the major challenge facing airlines relates to yield, and this, he said, is affected by the price of oil. But he said the tourist board’s objective is to make St Lucia a desirable destination to potential travellers. “We have to very strategic we have to create that demand for St Lucia and then the airlift becomes sustainable, and that is the initiative we are pursuing,” he added.
“We can’t afford to throw our hands in the air and seem helpless every time we are called on to address a challenge,” he said “We have to continue to be strategic and continue to focus on the destination in a very responsible way.” Lewis said that while St Lucia had more airlift last year, the flights were not full, adding that regardless of reduced capacity, efforts must continue market the destination.
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