A businessman and former airline worker is proposing that Barbados move quickly to establish a low-cost airline through a private-public sector partnership if the country is serious about growing and diversifying its tourism product and attracting more visitors.
Founder of the distribution firm Sun Shine Imports Inc. Alessandro Giustolisi told Barbados TODAY that he has come up with a “viable plan” that could see Barbados partnering with Antigua and Barbuda to build out an expansive air connection between the Caribbean and the rest of the world.
He explained that setting up an airline now, would allow Barbados to offer flights directly to and from countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and South and Central America, and make the island a gateway to the southern regions while Antigua would become the hub for the north.
“We are in a wonderful crossing point between Europe, Central America and South America and North America,” said Giustolisi.
The three-phase plan, he said, would include the acquisition of eight small aircrafts, the leasing of at least four Airbus 319 or Boeing 373 planes and a maximum of two Boeing 747, which would be leased by Bridgetown and St John’s.
It would also see the island forming linkages with countries over time.
The distributor said copies of his plan, which was done while LIAT was just entering its liquidation process, have already been submitted to government officials in Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda.
During an interview with Barbados TODAY on Thursday, Giustolisi said he feared that if something was not done now “we will stay behind for many years”.
“We are in a wonderful position. Africa is developing a lot so there are now links between Africa and North America and South America. Africa, at the moment, is not linked with Central America and the Caribbean. What I believe, especially countries like South Africa, Ghana and Kenya and Ethiopia, we could talk with them,” he proposed.
“I think it is possible to build an airline to give us what we deserve. We are linking now only well in the normal times with United States and Canada, but in Europe I don’t think we are really linking so much, only England and Germany. Africa, nothing at all, South America and Central America we got only flying Copa Airlines that maybe will come back and that is very expensive,” he said.
Pointing out that Barbados and the rest of the region enjoyed a huge Lebanese and Syrian community, the Italian said establishing a direct link with Beirut would also serve the island well.
“They have some problems with visa in Europe and England so they cannot fly sometimes because they cannot get the transit visa, even to go through the US. So if there is a direct link they would travel often,” he said.
He explained that once a direct link was established between Bridgetown and St John’s and countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and Central America, then officials would ensure they work with other Caribbean islands so that travellers could island hop very affordably.
“There are some destinations in the north we would serve from Antigua. All the other destinations southern we would link with Barbados. And all the other small airports in the Caribbean they can be linked, but it must be one airline.
“This hub must have a system of transit very quick, and not only quick, a system where the people say ‘I want to spend three days here’ and it can be included in our ticket. So for example, I can pay the same money to go Grenada or St Vincent via Barbados with a stopover of three days free in Barbados for example. Or we can sell a pass together with a long flight to visit more islands, with each route costing only US$50 or US$70 only,” he explained.
The former German airline industry worker said the plan would include the gradual expansion of direct links to include the Dutch-speaking and Spanish-speaking countries, as well as more US states.
He said the low-cost airline would help to create more traffic and lead to lower airport and government fees and charges, and lead to improvement in cargo transport.
A part of the plan, he said, would be to establish a duty-free zone shopping area, which could result in spill-over effects for taxi operators, hotels, travel agencies, hired car companies, restaurants and other businesses.
“If there is a freezone people would come here instead of going to Miami or Panama and they would be happier,” he said, adding that such a zone could be established close to the Grantley Adams International Airport.
He said despite the COVID-19 pandemic, he was aware there was still a strong desire among many people to travel to a destination that was safe, had a stable political climate and not many COVID-19 cases
Giustolosi said Barbados and other Caribbean islands offered just that and should therefore use it to their advantage.
He said he did not see financing for the establishment of an airline as a problem, adding that: “the private sector will invest money
“The private sector can invest but they don’t want to do it if they don’t see the light.”
“We must give some guarantee to the private sector and they will invest. It is also in their interest,” he said, adding that authorities could examine models of private-public sector airline partnerships to emulate. ([email protected])