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Lisa Morales

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All stakeholders in the business of travel must be prepared to give up something to survive post-COVID-19.

That was the consensus during a virtual discussion hosted by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation on the future of Caribbean tourism in the COVID-19 era.

The session, titled ‘Ready, Set, Take Off: The Role of Regional Airlines and Airports in Boosting Intra-Regional Travel in Light of COVID-19, included speakers Caribbean Airlines head of sales Lisa Morales, Princess Juliana International Airport (Saint Martin) COO Michel Hyman and aviation expert Neville Boxill.

While revealing their domestic adjustments made to encourage travel by citizens within the region, the panel agreed there was an immediate need for all stakeholders—governments, airports, airlines and hoteliers—to come together to find the most appropriate way going forward if the travel industry is to have any chance of surviving.

Some of these adjustments they recommended included reduced airfares, a drive for more all-inclusive packages, reduction of airport and airline fees and even reduction of or complete removal of hotel commissions.

Morales said in light of COVID-19, Caribbean Airlines had been working on restoring confidence in customers to travel again as its main focus.

She noted CAL had been identifying points at which it would adjust its operations and adjust protocols to meet and surpass the requirements of the safety and security of passengers.

Asked what CAL would give up to encourage inter-regional travel, Morales said it would depend on customer demand. She spoke of several initiatives, such as the Caribbean Explorer for island hoppers, Staycation packages to encourage domestic travel and its Caribbean Vacation and Tours.

Morales said apart from more aggressive marketing, there was a need for corporation among stakeholders in the pushing packages by airlines, noting this will be the way forward at least for the next few months.

She said in many instances it has been like “pulling teeth” to get stakeholders on board, noting quite frequently the airline would not even get a response from some hoteliers on creating packages.

Referring to Jamaica and St Vincent as models who reset their methods through pricing, taxes and other strategic ways to encourage travel and survive the COVID fallout, Morales said: “We have to look at our collective marketing, a year-on-year evaluation is not going to work anymore, we need to reset. We all have to be reasonable going forward.”

Previously, Morales noted there was an opportunity for villas and other independent living accommodations to be more popularly utilised at this time, as people will be travelling in smaller groups. But she said as more travelling resumes, luxury and high-end travel will take the lead

Hyman noted aviation has been hit very hard, stripping away more than 80 per cent of the business. He suggested more harmonised travel protocols, saying travel authorities now need to look at revamping travel through the islands by Caricom citizens—making movement easier and smoother and reducing cost and taxes and fees.

He said Caricom travelling had been driven by festivals, conferences and business meetings and with the cancellation of most activity due to COVID-19, stakeholders now had to rethink travel incentives and airlines had to take the lead on this.