Castries – St Lucia tourism minister Dr. Ernest Hilaire said on Thursday that there was “virtually” no Caribbean travel and lamented the loss of cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT.
Hilaire gave a sobering assessment of the impact the severe reduction of flights since the airline was virtually grounded amid the onset of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in March 2020
“We actually do not have high regional travel right now, and regional travel was probably our second largest source of arrivals in 2019,” Hilaire told a meeting of the Tourism Advisory Committee.
“We virtually have no regional travel and we are already up to 75 to 80 per cent of what we were in 2019 without a significant regional travel component.”
“And it is an issue that I am going to raise with the Prime Minister in a very detailed way. What can we do to provide greater support to LIAT to get LIAT functioning once again.”
Hilaire said the situation exists now showed “the foolhardiness of the views” that were held in the past about LIAT.
“Yes, we must all agree, LIAT was not the best example of a well-run, well-managed company,” he said. “There are a lot of criticisms of LIAT, but we have had experiences over decades that when others came, promised a lot, and failed to deliver, we always had to go back and rely on LIAT with all of its deficiencies.”
Hilaire said St Lucia was notorious in the last few years for criticising LIAT, undermining the airline, and “really cheering for LIAT’s downfall”.
“That’s a fact,” he said. “And look at what COVID has exposed. It has really exposed out naked behinds. All the others that came to promise and said they were committed to this region, where are they, and now we are begging for LIAT to come back.
“Just imagine if LIAT had 15 or 20 flights a day into St Lucia with all its deficiencies, wouldn’t we welcome that than what we have now?
“The point is we need a regional travel capacity that we have influence over, that we can control and we know operates in our best interest.”
Hilaire said that there was an urgent need to sit down to discuss how the island can contribute to getting LIAT functioning much better than it is currently and to increase the airline’s capacity because this country’s tourism industry needed a strong regional travel capacity.
“I can tell you as the Minister also responsible for Creative Industries and the organising of Carnival, we’re missing it,” he said.
“We are doing very well, but a lot of the visitors we have that are going to be coming in are coming in from international markets and not so many from the regional markets.”
Hilaire said while the Trinidad & Tobago-based Caribbean Airlines (CAL) added “a couple more flights”, they were still not enough.