After about six months of negotiations, Barbados is now in a position to sink its teeth into a bigger piece of the tourism pie from the European market.
Today at around 2:50 p.m., Barbados welcomed its first ever non-stop ten-hour flight from Frankfurt, Germany.
The Eurowings flight LH 5432, a subsidiary of Lufthansa Airlines, touched down at the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) with almost 300 passengers who sported straw hats finished with a blue ribbon, which bore the word ‘Barbados’.
Following the merriment and handing out of welcome gifts to the passengers, Minister of Tourism and International Transport Kerrie Symmonds told a gathering of airline and local tourism officials that the decision taken by Lufthansa officials to fly to Bridgetown three times weekly was a show of confidence in the Barbados economy.
He said Barbados was among the first of three destinations chosen by the airline to fly the retrofitted long haul Eurowings aircraft, the others being Mauritius and Namibia.
“For Barbados to be placed in that estimable company that is a vote of confidence,” said Symmonds.
Symmonds disclosed that the decision to have the direct flights to Bridgetown came after “deep and meaningful” discussions back in March.
Adding that the partnership between Bridgetown and Frankfurt allowed for strong “marketing muscle” and connection out of all of Europe, Symmonds said Barbados was now in a position to capture a bigger piece of the tourism pie from that continent.
“The reality is that in the absence of having a non-stop direct service in the past, we have been hamstrung in getting more deeply into the European market. I say to you as Minister of Tourism and International Transport that we have been studying the figures. Germany alone accounts for US$80 billion being contributed to international travel every year. France contributes about US$40 billion to international travel every year. If Barbados was to get about one per cent of that traffic, we would be getting the sum total of all that we get every year,” said Symmonds.
It is estimated that from the more than 681,000 visitors last year, Barbados earned some US$1.1 billion.
“It seems to make good sense to me therefore that we have to build partnerships that help us deepen the economic arrangements that this country has and advance the standard of living and wellbeing of all of our people. The European market via Lufthansa becomes more accessible,” he added.
The tourism minister pointed out that after 26 years the country now had an air services agreement in place with Germany, albeit “developmental in nature”.
Pointing out that an agreement was reached within three weeks of negotiations, Symmonds disclosed that the air services agreement provided for the airline to increase flights up to ten times per week and to provide for the transportation of cargo.
He added that the agreement would also allow for code sharing, where a flight could be marketed by one carrier and operated by another as a result of airlines selling seats on each other’s flights.
“There is tremendous opportunity for us to have the designated carriers have liberal service with regard to code sharing. And I am happy to announce that it was only a couple of days ago that we received a letter formally indicating that Austria airlines is interested in code sharing. That gives us yet another opportunity with yet another member of the Lufthansa group to further deepen our relationship into Europe and our penetration of the European market via Austria airline,” said Symmonds.
“There is, even as we begin the celebration of this first flight, tremendous opportunity for expansion on the horizon. That means tremendous opportunity for this aviation industry to grow and expand and for our airport to grow and expand and be a place for transshipment of cargo,” he added.
Symmonds boasted that Barbados would now become the envy of the Eastern Caribbean, stating, “we are now doing what none of our colleagues in the Eastern Caribbean has been able to do.”
He said that Barbados was committed to doing all it could to make the partnership a success, adding that the agreement in place with Germany was “a large step in the right direction for Barbados.”
The airline will fly to Bridgetown three times weekly until April next year before taking a decision on subsequent flights.
Senior director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean with the Lufthansa Group Felipe Bonifatti said the addition of the Bridgetown flight provided an opportunity for growth and increased capacity in the Caribbean.
He said the Eurowings flight to Bridgetown brings to 319, the destinations, and 103 countries, served by the Lufthansa group, which has a total of 763 aircrafts and employs 135,000 people.
Chief executive officer of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI) William Griffith said the new flight was a significant one for Barbados as officials sought to diversify and expand source markets.
He said the commitment by Lufthansa achieves a 75 per cent increase of air seats out of Frankfurt airways this winter season.