Intraregional travel is a vastly untapped market that Barbados can and must invest in.
That was the message from Senator Rawdon Adams as the Senate debated the Grantley Adams International Airport (Transfer of Management and Vesting of Assets) Amendment Bill 2021, on Wednesday.
He pointed out that Caribbean islands were spending millions of dollars each year to compete with each other for visitors.
“The way in which we are set up in this region is that we compete fiercely, one against the other, island by island. We pay very heavy subsidies for airline companies to guarantee routes and airlift into our territory.
“The figures I came across are a little bit dated – they are from 2009 – but I am sure the situation has not changed that much. At that time, one of the World Bank entities solicited information on just how much is being paid in guarantees for these routes, and it was just about $15 million a year. That was nine countries out of 35 who actually responded. So we are really competing hard against each other,” he said.
While acknowledging that the Bill before the Senate did not address the issue directly, Adams said that with the new investments being planned for the airport, he hoped more could be done to increase travel between the islands, as the lack of direct routes in the region has consistently stifled investment and trade.
“I’m sure there can’t be a person here who has not had a situation where they want to go to another territory in the region, and they had to go through Miami, and they can’t go direct. Even as Barbados was a LIAT hub, there are some destinations you could not easily go directly to.
“That is a function of two things – first, that we are competing so hard and paying airlines to bring airlift to us; and, second, that we had two monopolies in the region, LIAT and Caribbean Airlines, and that has hurt us on interisland trade and interisland tourism,” he said.
Adams added that any other hindrances to regional travel and investment must be avoided at all costs, to avoid a repeat situation of the LIAT debacle.
“I would hate to see us repeat the error of the past where we virtually guaranteed the market to LIAT. We saw the high prices, not a great deal of reliability, and a fleet that in many cases was 20 years old. The protection they got absolutely stifled the [competition] – Redjet, for example, back in 2007/2009. This is not a situation that we want to see repeated,” the Senator said. (SB)