As Virgin Atlantic has announced that it preparing to cut almost a third of its 10,000-member workforce and close its London Gatwick operations to survive the COVID-19 crisis, it can have an upside for Tobago.
Tobago Tourism Agency (TTA) CEO Louis Lewis told Guardian Media (GML), “If it happens, there’s a whole new strategic direction for us.”
Virgin Atlantic recently cautioned that it would take up to three years to return to 2019 traffic levels and announced plans to cut up to 3,150 jobs.
The airline’s exit from Gatwick airport, where it has been based for the past 35 years, has major implications for Tobago since Virgin flights came directly from Gatwick to Tobago.
Lewis told GML, “It may have some pluses, in the sense that, if it is connecting out of Manchester, it allows greater connectivity with the rest of Europe. So that could potentially work in our favour.”
He noted that the situation is one where stakeholders in Tobago would have to wait and see how it unfolds. Lewis highlighted that Virgin Atlantic is currently in talks with the UK government concerning financial assistance and said, “There is that as well as a consideration.”
According to Lewis, the situation involves a lot of moving parts and it is far from settled. He said: “When decisions are made then we will see how we’ll strategize ourselves into that framework.”
In a recent GML report, Lewis announced that COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected Tobago’s tourism sector, with losses projected to be approximately $88 million. He also said employment would be affected, with approximately 6,000 people being dislocated.
The Minister of Tourism, Randall Mitchell confirmed to GML that Virgin would normally fly to Tobago once per week, with a 226 seat capacity. He noted that in the high (winter) season the airline would fly to Tobago twice per week.
He said: “At this time it may be too early to say whether there will be a cessation of flights to Tobago.”
However, Mitchell said the question of Airlift has always been a priority for the Tobago tourism sector, noting that the Sandals project was supposed to create the demand for airlift with its world-class branded property.
Mithcell said that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted the worldwide travel and tourism industry. He said: “The picture will be quite different as we come out on the other side.”
He continued to note that many airlines around the world have experienced turbulence and will have to quickly adjust to the new normal. As with all other tourism sectors, Mitchell said that Tobago and Trinidad will have to adapt to the new normal to ensure survival.
The Tourism Minister added that Apple Leisure and the Sunwing group are ready to assume the management of the Magdalena and Turtle Beach resorts. He said that the companies are large, vertically integrated firms operating in the tourism sector with the required airlift and tour operators to ensure that the hotels are full.