(Air Transport World) – The lack of air connectivity among the islands of the Caribbean remains one of the tallest barriers to unlocking the full potential of the region’s tourism market, the head of the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA) told Aviation Daily.
The islands of the Caribbean are more dependent on tourism than most other regions of Latin America, but they are hamstrung from increasing that market by regulations—and cultural barriers—that make travel by air difficult, ALTA executive director Eduardo Iglesias said at the ALTA Pan American Aviation Safety Summit.
There is some truth to the joke that the easiest way to get from Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, to Point-a-Pitre, the capital of Guadeloupe, is to connect through Miami, even though the two islands are only a few hundred kilometers apart, Iglesias said. Some of this is cultural. Connectivity in the Caribbean tends to be among islands of similar cultural and linguistic traditions. For example, Iglesias noted the islands of the Dutch-speaking Caribbean are well connected with each other and with Amsterdam, and the islands of the French-speaking Caribbean are also well connected with each other and Paris. A similar dynamic exists among the English-speaking islands of the region, and with the US and the UK.
And when direct flights exist, they may stop several times en route, making travel between the islands inconvenient.
Governments do not help the situation, either. Iglesias noted on some flights that stop several times en route between islands, passengers must disembark and pass through customs and immigration at each airport. In many cases, this requires visas and additional fees, he said. “Governments risk killing the goose that lays the golden egg,” Iglesias said, referring to the tourism industry.
Trips between neighboring islands can also be subject to visas, fees and taxes, he said, while the same journeys by boat are not. “The problem is that flying is still seen by governments as a luxury,” Iglesias said. “People are not willing to island hop, unless they are really determined,” he said. “And people who do island hop will be heavily penalized by taxation.”
But there are signs of change, Iglesias said. Although many airlines in the Caribbean are state-owned, entrepreneurs are beginning to set up private carriers to connect countries in the region. And state-owned carriers are beginning to work with their governments to “rationalize” the taxes, he said. “There is a lot of opportunity in the Caribbean, just waiting for a better approach to taxation and airport fees.”