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Air access critical to Buccament Bay Resort success – Harlequin VP

Air access critical to Buccament Bay Resort success – Harlequin VP

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The continued success of Buccament Bay Resort will depend on air access to St Vincent, a company executive said on Friday.{{more}}

Garrett Ronan, Harlequin vice-president of Hotel and Resort Development, said while St Vincent has been “one of the best kept secrets in terms of the natural beauty, … its been difficult to get to”.

And his company decided to invest in Buccament Bay because “the key element of the international airport was a commitment” made to them.

The Dr Ralph Gonsalves Unity Labour Party government has revised the projected completion date of the Argyle international airport, with the latest date being late 2013, with operation beginning in 2014.

Ronan said Buccament Bay Resort “is doing very well and feedback across market is fantastic.

“… the project’s growth going forward would now be dictated by ensuring that we can get the airlift,” he, however, added.

The $652 million international airport being built at Argyle was delayed “through the natural downturn in the world economy”, an “understandable” setback, Ronan said.

He met recently with LIAT — the main regional carrier — and asked for an additional afternoon flight between Barbados and St Vincent.

International guests, Ronan explained, can lose a day at the beginning and end of their vacation because of wait time or delayed connections.

“Again, I am not being nasty or critical here. This is pure facts; this is what the guests are telling us,” he said.

He said UK customers often buy vacation packages that include their flight to St Vincent and their arrival experience affects “how they feel about the overall experience and whether they would come back.”

Regional connection issues exist, even as Harlequin is trying to break into the US market, where persons generally take shorter vacations, Ronan said.

“So, accessibility is a key element to how we develop St Vincent’s tourism product, …” Ronan further said, adding that resolving the situation is in the interest of his company and the nation.

Harlequin Air option

He said Harlequin Air — the company’s airline which it hopes will get the requisite permits and begin flying guests sometime during the next month — is “a key element to what we do going forward, particularly for St Vincent”.

Ronan said LIAT’s 5:30 p.m. flight from Barbados to St Vincent is typically full and this year, his company has spent 750,000 pounds sterling with the airline.

He said that if people cannot secure flights within the region, they would vacation elsewhere.

The company’s resorts will continue to work with smaller operators and is not looking to take business away from Mustique Airways and SVG Air, Ronan said.

But the resort is looking to fly some of its guests “because the luxury experience starts as soon in their vacation time as possible. And for them in the UK, its when they arrive at Gatwick Airport”.

Ronan said his company cannot control what happens to its would-be guests in the UK, but can do so in the region “and that is to pick up our guests and fly them within two hours of their arriving”.

Ronan’s company has invested the requisite US$2 million and is spending spending US$50,000 a month for pilots and hangar space in Antigua, while they await the processing of a regional air operation certificate from the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA).

“Like anything, there is probably some hidden politics and there’s due process,” he said of the one-year wait.

He said his company was not afraid of, nor was hiding from due process.

“But there are some inefficiencies in due process that build up frustration, and sometimes our owner and our investors get frustrated and sometimes lash out.”

Ronan said Harlequin has “a few proving flights to do” and was cautiously optimistic that they are “about a few weeks away from our AOC”.

“In theory, that means hopefully in a month we could be flying,” he said.

He, however, noted that with a ECCAA licence in hand, Harlequin Air still has to get the relevant permits from civil aviation authorities in Barbados, St Vincent, and St Lucia.

“Without that, we don’t get to fly,” he said.

‘Carrying on’ with REDjet

He spoke of the “carrying on that went down with REDjet”. He said that that is a “slightly different story; but they went through a process of sticking needles in your eyes, which meant that they sat on the ground, with 80 staff, for six months.

The Barbados-based discount airline ceased operations in March, 10 months after launching with flights to Trinidad and then expanding to Guyana, Antigua, St Lucia, St Maarten and Jamaica.

REDjet had branded itself the region’s first low-cost carrier.

“They were given various promises — and again, there was wrong done on both sides — I am not going to get into that, I am not going to judge here. But it was a crying shame for the region that that thing was not a success,” Ronan said, adding that REDjet “was starting to … improve trans- and inter-Caribbean transport and [the] ability for people to go and enjoy.

“There is a process here, we have to respect the process and I don’t want to insult anybody who is going to be involved in the process, because insulting can cause bad feelings and then things become more difficult,” Ronan said.

Harlequin also has resorts in Barbados, St Lucia, and the Dominican Republic.

It hopes in the future to also fly its guests directly from the United States.

He said that for the ECCAA, it is important that they check the airline out properly.

“So, again, I am not disparaging the process. Process is very important. But it’s a long, long process. We’ve been at this over a year now,” he said.([email protected])

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