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Caribbean air travel again

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25.MAY.07

Earlier this week St. Vincent and the Grenadines hosted a meeting of CARICOM Ministers with responsibility for air transportation. The meeting came in the wake of mounting cries throughout the region about the exorbitant cost of regional air travel and its negative effects on Caribbean development. This paper has already raised this issue and called for urgent measures to have it addressed.{{more}} It was therefore heartening to hear the voices of the region’s tourism sector being added to the mounting chorus.

Admittedly the solutions are not that easy to come by given today’s realities. Certainly it involves reinvoking the long-standing Caribbean dream of a regional ferry service. Dreams though can become nightmares if wrongly pursued as our own experiences with air transportation in the region have taught us. We cannot afford to repeat those crucial errors and must learn from them.

In any case the proposed ferry service does not absolve us from the responsibility to address the current air transport problems. The ferry will not be in Kingstown harbour tomorrow, but we need to travel today – to Barbados, Kingston, Port of Spain, St. John’s. We have problems with outrageous prices, inconvenient routes and insufficient connections. Take Dominica for instance. A recent visitor there explained to us not only did he have to go all the way up to Antigua to get there but was also charged EC$1240.00 to do so. One can get a “special” to New York for that price.

Whatever the reasons, monopoly price-gouging, high government taxes or plain inefficiency, we are paying the price. Literally, in terms of ridiculously high air fares, economically in terms of lost productive hours travelling from point A to point B and in respect of our tourism product. With SVG’s 30th anniversary Carnival celebrations heavily dependent on incoming visitors and with so many other similar festivals to follow, the need for solutions is URGENT.

We expect practical measures to emerge from the deliberations of our leaders in this sphere of activity, not further platitudes and well meaning declarations which do not address the complaints of the region’s peoples. If we fail to address them, then more countries are likely, as in the case of St. Lucia, to seek short-term solutions relying on external carriers. Is that the way we wish to go?

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