Tobago hoteliers group: Disconnect between CAL and travellers

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A CAL plane lands at an airport. –

Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association president Alpha Lorde believes there is a disconnect in the service being provided by Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) and the demand of consumers.

Lorde spoke with Newsday on Wednesday, a day after a CAL press release which gave an update on the airline’s operations on the domestic airbridge from December 2022 to February 2023.

According to CAL, since December 2022 on average of just under 3,000 seats per month on flights between TT were empty. CAL said December was the busiest month in the three-month period as 4,980 seats were added to the 25,864 seats initially made available for flights to Tobago, with 440 flights departing the Piarco International Airport to the ANR Robinson International Airport. CAL said that of the 30,844 seats available, 29,912 seats were occupied during the period, indicating that only 932 seats to Tobago were unused in December.

Lorde said, “We’re happy that CAL is able to provide flights that accommodated 80 per cent or more capacity, but at the same time, we the operators on the ground in Tobago are continuously inundated with persons saying that they’re not able to get a flight or that they’re having this difficulty or that difficulty.

“There must be something wrong somewhere why we continue to have that problem and I think the objective has to be on solving the problem, not necessarily proving one person right or wrong.”

He added, “We continue to have continuous problems with persons not being able to (get to) the island. I probably travelled four days last week in a seven-day stretch and every one of those days, I had to wait in the airport probably three hours in one of the directions…That’s not because I had pre-planned engagements, it was just because things happen and I had to move, so I think there is something to be looked at.”

He noted that for Tobago’s tourism product to grow and be sustainable, airlift between TT must be more reliable.

“When I say reliable, I’m not necessarily talking about it leaving on time, but a more reliable service from the perspective of commuting to and from.

“If I have to go to Port of Spain now – if something comes up and I have to go to Port of Spain on Friday morning and I would like to come back on Friday, there is a strong likelihood that I could get to Trinidad but I cannot get back.

“There is no one weekend that somebody could say arbitrarily, Wednesday or Thursday, ‘You know what, I’m going to Tobago with my partner. I’m going Tobago with friends,’ and be able to book and get a flight.

He said Tobago is sufficiently dependent on the airlift not only for tourism but for commerce in more ways than one.

“For Tobago to have a fighting chance, we have to get to a place where that airlift works for everybody, and it currently, unfortunately right now, doesn’t. There is some problem in the system; whether it be a reservation-driven problem in terms of the systems they use or the scheduling of flights and when.”

He said one of the pressing issues is the difficulty to access flights to Tobago for Easter.

“… but then after the Easter period, you’ll see statistics similar to what just came out, showing a bunch of free seats.

“How is it that we are going to end up with free seats after, when nobody can get a flight right now.

“How is it that we’re going to end up with free seats after, when come Good Friday an Glorious Saturday you’re going to have tons of people in the airport trying to travel on standby. So there is something wrong in the system somewhere; the question is how do we unlock that something that is wrong and solve the problem.”

He said there must be discussions among stakeholders.

“It’s easy for us to talk from outside, until we’re open to all the challenges and the ramifications that CAL themselves experience. Suggestions now is just throwing it into the air and hoping that it lands somewhere appropriate. I think it has to be a conversation that actually says these are the constraints within which we are operating as a business, and then the hotel industry might be able to say this is how we can help.”