Hotel boss: CAL ‘strangling’ Tobago economy

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A Caribbean Airlines plane about to take off. – File photo

TOBAGO Hotel and Tourism Association president Alpha Lorde has accused state carrier Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) of “strangling” the island’s economy by increasing flights to regional destinations at the expense of the domestic route.

In a television interview in August 2023, Tobago West MP Shamfa Cudjoe-Lewis said CAL was operating at a loss on the domestic airbridge.

She said apart from the initial purchase of an aircraft, maintenance was of critical importance. Cudjoe-Lewis added that the 20-minute route between TT has proven costly for the airline. “Operating an airline is not a bike shop – it’s a lot of maintenance.

You have to schedule pilots accordingly and train them; they have to leave every now and then to go to France and Miami to do their training, and all of that costs,” she had said. “We in TT have decided to face the loss because it is an essential service.

It’s about people getting to school, it’s about the movement of goods, it’s about the movement of services. So we have to have Caribbean Airlines operating between TT.”

For the domestic route to be profitable, Cudjoe-Lewis said, passengers must be willing to pay $700-$1,000 for a return flight.

Lorde said within the last 12-18 months, the association has observed a decrease in the local market and an uptick in regional travel. “So people are saying Tobago is a little difficult to get to, but I can fly to Grenada because CAL has flights. The correlation is that CAL has reduced the (number) of flights on a daily rotation to Tobago to be able to increase their flights to other destinations. So as Tobago suffers, unfortunately the other destinations benefit,” he told Newsday. He believes CAL is favouring the more lucrative routes. “But I think CAL is missing the fact that it is a whole economy being strangled by a singular decision.”

With just over a week to go before Easter, a peak travel period, Lorde said although people are making bookings at hotels, villas, guesthouses and other types of accommodation, the availability of flights remains a challenge.

“I would say that it is average but coming along. Some people are still seeing requests coming in. “The concern is that although people are requesting rooms, they are hesitant to make formal commitment on bookings because they do not have the flights. They are calling, making sure that we have rooms, and they are working towards getting flights or a boat over, with the intention of calling back and saying, ‘Look my credit card, I’ll be there.”

Jason Martin, general manager of Magdalena Beach & Golf Resort, said business is “picking up moderately.

“From the way how I see bookings going, I imagine we will have a near-to-full house,” he told Newsday. Martin said many people have also expressed interest in the resort’s family day lime on May 31 – Easter Sunday. Alluding to the ongoing oil spill clean-up along the Magdalena’s beachfront, he said,

“We are just trying to make sure we have the aesthetics in place, because the oil clean-up is not just quite finished yet, but most of it is gone. The smell is gone.” But he said there might be some restrictions for guests who may want to walk on the sand. “In that case, the pools are ready. So in the event the clean-up crew is not quite ready for the beach side, guests will still have other things to enjoy. “But I think it is promising for Easter. Let’s hope that the flights and the ferries do what they have to do on their end and we on the hotel scene, will deliver on our end.”

By contrast, the island’s tour boat sector is reporting a bumper season. Owner of Frankie Tours and Rentals Michael Frank said his business has been going well. Frank, who launched a new glass-bottom boat, Millennium One, in January, said almost all of his five vessels are fully booked for the Easter weekend.

He said his fellow tour boat operators are also doing well. “But I seem to be doing better than most of the others combined, across the board,” he said. “It could be because I have a new boat and everybody rushing.

But for now, I seem to be doing a little better.” The $3 million boat, which is 60 feet long and 20 feet wide, has the capacity to hold 180 passengers. It has two bars (one for snacks and the other for drinks), free WiFi, storage space for passengers’ luggage and a washroom facility, among other amenities.