By Kareem Yarde
St. Maarten recently became the region’s command centre for solutions pertaining to the Caribbean’s air transport and tourism woes at the Caribbean Aviation Meetup 2017, which saw the coalescence of Air Transport and Tourism Practitioners around a single objective- to bring out of the box solutions to perennial problems.
Like any other conference, networks were expanded, business contacts exchanged, ideas proffered, new friendships made and old ones rekindled. Unlike many other conferences though, innovative propositions were rendered, not least of which was the use of sea planes for interisland transport.
The conference fittingly began with an enthralling presentation by the CEO of Tropic Ocean Airways (a sea plane company in Fort Lauderdale), Rob Ceravolo about leadership in aviation. Some of the recommended strategies involve:
- • Having leadership at all levels (having a comprehensive and inclusive decision-making process, not only top level management);
- • thinking outside the box and encouraging innovation; and
- • developing a ‘de-briefing’ culture to explore and own problems as a team and achieve deliberative consensus regarding potential solutions.
Naturally therefore, a most logical question would be, what benefit has this conference brought to the region? To follow is a brief summary:
- • There was a confluence of tourism and air transport stakeholders in a non-political environment. In the absence of political inhibitions, there was free reign to explore various potential possibilities and their implications;
- • We explored how St. Maarten’s position as a hub airport is strengthened by the development of a wider aviation industry and the cooperative arrangements with neighbouring islands. This is a worthy case study for other destinations;
- • Opportunities for cooperation and growth among regional exist among regional FBOs were discussed (Fixed Based Operators)
- • Indictments against flaws in our regional measurements of tourism showcased how our resources are not employed as efficiently as they should be;
- • Many of the international participants present expressed intrigue about the regional situation and lamented the fact that a more efficient system would greatly improve the region’s tourism prospects;
- • In the spirt of innovative solutions, helicopter transport was explored as an underexploited opportunity within the region; and
- • Greater cooperation among airlines, destination marketing organisations, airports and tourism entities to facilitate air service development was discussed.
The diversity in the Meetup was therefore commendable. Notably, there was consideration given to establishing an Aviation Industry Association which would effectively seek to lobby and resolve issues being faced.
A cursory review of the region would identify various tourism associations and bodies with responsibility for examining regional air transport and tourism. Then, a reasonable argument as to what potential benefits could be derived from another association may abound.
The expectation is that such an association will be apolitical which may perhaps be one of its greatest strengths. Like hotel associations developed regionally, an Aviation association with membership from other stakeholders within the aviation value chain and downstream in tourism is worthy of consideration. Unlike tourism however, the aviation industry regionally does not exist within a liberal environment. As such, it maybe necessary for some policy stakeholders to be represented if any action is to be had.
The IATA reported in 2011 that the Aviation industry contributes approximately 1.4% to the economies of the Caribbean and supports a further 7.2 % through the catalytic impacts of tourism. Greater efficiency can only augment these benefits in a context where there are limited economic pillars.
Admittedly, arguments against radical shifts in the existing system are often tenable because of the fragility with which aviation in our region functions, driven by its complexities (which of often discussed ad nauseam).
Though high taxes arguably stifle demand they serve as direct revenue generation means.
Therefore, destinations must be satisfied that the removal of such is justified by a significant enough amount in revenue to offset or surpass the direct taxes imposed. These are indeed legitimate questions.
Accordingly, a public private sector ‘parley’, with aviation as its bedrock gives good fodder for discussing these issues and exploring solutions.
As small island developing states with tourism dependence, whether we recognize it or not, the aviation industry is the artery through which the blood of our economies flows. It must therefore be awarded due and serious analysis.
For those with interest, it should be noted that June 12-14, 2018, the conference is expected to once again materialize in St Maarten, where its relevance has been endorsed by the airport, tourism association and other stakeholders.
Kareem Yarde is the Founder of Tourism Analytical Services. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org..