An interesting Open Skies debate was raised at an IDB-sponsored event which brought together aviation leaders from across the Caribbean. The conversation led to a brainstorming on air transport needs, and how we can enable deeper regional integration while also providing inputs to the IDB air transport agenda for the Caribbean.
The deliberations were anchored on an IDB’s study that we recently published, and the idea of making the Caribbean region an open market for airlines was thoroughly discussed with references made to the success of this arrangement as implemented in the European Union and other regions. The central counter argument was the risk of putting airlift for tourism – the life blood of the region – into the hands of the open market, encouraging stronger participation of offshore airlines.
One view is that we consider open skies in the context of complementary innovations which envision the Caribbean as one space in a way that unlocks opportunities for regional airlines. The region receives 22 million stayover arrivals annually, which should be an adequate volume to profitably support intra-regional air service if we drive this demand through regional marketing in lieu of individual island marketing.
The following three innovations might help to consolidate the Caribbean intra-regional traffic:
Creating hotel agreements on a system of brand sharing between hotels on different islands, allowing stayover visitors to the region to start their vacation on one island/country and end it on any other island/country of their choosing under one reservation.
Facilitating IT infrastructure that pushes our borders to the point of origin where immigration and customs issues are handled at source to facilitate the seamless stress-free intra-regional movement of our tourists, a procedure with which the region is not entirely unfamiliar given its experience with the hosting of the Cricket World Cup and by the use of APIS by CARICOM.
Improving information system infrastructure to provide Caribbean nations with its own reservation system to allow, if not ensure, global reach and visibility of all our travel and leisure offerings.
I am aware that things are not as simple to achieve as they are to put on paper but if we are serious shouldn’t we at least try? A world of opportunities for tourists and locals alike lies ahead of us if we push the right air travel agenda for the Caribbean.
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