Regional airlines could help restore tourism

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By Carlena Knight

Kickstarting regional airlines is being touted as one of the ways the Caribbean can best reignite the tourism industry.

Development specialist Arvel Grant says the Caribbean should reduce reliance on international travellers and look closer to home.

He says the region has the potential to resolve its economic woes if it adopts a unified approach.

“I think that we really need to focus a little bit on what it is we can do for ourselves within the Caribbean, because it’s going to take a while before all of those jets start flying — and not just the need for the conditions to be brought under control in Europe and the United States and Canada — but you have those jets sitting down for weeks or months at a time and there is going to be a significant effort to get them back air worthy again,” Grant said.

“There’s all kinds of shutdown facilities that will have to be put in place to get so many large aircraft out and the main challenge to getting them back up is going to be equally strenuous, so I think what we really have to focus on is this,” he continued.

“We must find some way of having normal and socioeconomic activities within these societies or they will collapse and the easiest way to begin anything like tourism is to see whether or not the political influence exists within the Caricom states to allow LIAT, Caribbean Airlines and those other regional carriers to begin to fly within the country and see whether that is the kickstart that will generally suggest that we are ready.”

Glen Hector, of excursion company Creole Antigua Tours, echoed Grant’s calls for a regional push.

      Hector, who said his income has plummeted since the Covid-19 outbreak due to his business being entirely reliant on tourism, is calling on regional governments to decrease aviation taxes and improve ferry links between islands.

“For so many years we have depended on European and American tourists. Now is the time to encourage regional tourism. People from other islands would love the chance to get on a ferry and come to Antigua, for example, for the weekend and stay at a local resort,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rufus Gobat, owner and developer of Tamarind Hills luxury villas in Antigua, thinks medical tourism – which means travelling outside one’s country of residence to receive medical care – could be a future revenue booster.

“It’s definitely a market that I could see we make it in. It’s a hugely growing market. The travel population is [expanding]. It’s that much more important,” he said.

Gobat explained the wellness sector, with emphasis on quality spas and farm-to-fork food, would go hand in hand with that.

“You have to have a good spa. You have to have a wellness programme. Guests coming in want to know that the food is locally produced or caught. So, overall, medical wellness, I one hundred percent agree we need to explore it,” the hotelier said.

He acknowledged that various measures would need to be implemented.

“Medical tourism would rely on all sorts of investments in other medical facilities and upgrades on island. I am not medically qualified but my understanding of medical tourism is someone will travel to Antigua to have maybe an operation and then spend significant time here recuperating.

“So obviously the climate, the environment, the beaches, the sunshine are all conducive for that,” he added.

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