Statement

Ministry of Communication and Works
Release Date:
Thursday, 27 October 2022 - 11:02am

Madam Speaker, I wish to provide a brief report to this Honourable House on the Government's continuing efforts to increase airlift to the Virgin Islands so that we can make traveling easier and more affordable for all our residents and visitors, which is important to our tourism industry and our economy.

As I mentioned last week, Madam Speaker, as the Minister responsible for aviation services, I led a delegation that included the Managing Director of the BVI Airport Authority, Mr. Kurt Menal; the Chairman of the BVI Airport Authority Board, Mr. Theodore Burke; the Director of Tourism Mr. Clive McCoy, and members from the Airport Authority, to the Routes World 2022 event in Las Vegas.

The annual Routes World event is the premier global forum for the commercial aviation industry as it brings together over 2,500 major service providers from around the world and in all aspects of the industry under one roof. Routes is used by participating airport authorities, airlines, destinations, and other stakeholders to make introductions, establish and build networks, promote destinations and services, hold meetings and negotiate potential business opportunities. By consistently uniting decision-makers from the global route development community, Routes World significantly influences the world's air services. Over 53% of the world's new routes are connected to meetings at the event. Routes are where the key decision-makers in the aviation industry interact and initiate business relationships and arrangements.

Over the three days of the event, 16 – 18 October 2022, the BVI delegation was able to have substantial discussions with executives from eight major airlines, two airport authorities, one tourism body, and one airport management company.

Madam Speaker, these meetings were very fruitful and provided us with many opportunities for route development in the BVI. We were able to establish a number of valuable leads, which we can now have follow-up discussions with the organizations we spoke with to increase airlift and tourist arrival and also to grow our tourism market share.

Let me say, Madam Speaker, that it is very important for us to be participating in forums like this, Routes; and having these kinds of discussions with movers and shakers in the industry at this time. Airlines plan their routes years in advance. Therefore, where it is our intention to increase the runway length, to expand the facilities at Beef Island to be able to handle larger volumes of air travelers, and to increase the revenue generation capacity of the BVI Airports Authority and its airports, we must nurture these relationships from now, so that when we complete the expansion, the business is there, ready and prepared, to operate and commence flights.

Madam Speaker, our team, had three core goals in going to Routes. Firstly, and obviously, we want to get direct flights to the US Mainland. Our second aim is to increase connectivity and the overall volume of flights and passengers coming through our airports. And our third aim was to promote the BVI as a top-quality and high-value tourist destination and attract more visitors.

So, our strategy is that in addition to pursuing direct flights with the US, we would scout and initiate other opportunities to generate more business for our tourism industry, which is one of our economic drivers and which is how a large segment of our population earns their livelihood.

The eight airlines our delegation met with were: Southwest Airlines, Jet Blue, Frontier Airlines, Sun County Airlines, American Airlines, Air Canada, United Airlines, and Breeze. All of the airlines acknowledged that the BVI is a very attractive destination with very high potential, and therefore, they see that we have the demand for their respective profile of passengers.

We found that a few did not know as much as we would have liked about the BVI as a potential destination for their services. But, Madam Speaker, after speaking with our delegation and viewing our presentation, they got a fresh perspective, and this led to some very productive and optimistic conversations. The BVI is now on the radar of those airlines.

We received multiple requests to supply further technical information for airlines to review their position on flying to the BVI and requests for follow-up conversations. We also received interest from one airline with respect to charter options to the U.S. Mainland, which is a possibility with the support of some of some of our industry partners. Another popular airline is very interested in considering a codeshare with a ferry service to the BVI from St Thomas. We also discussed with certain airlines how they can factor into our route development plans to make it easier for persons in more U.S. States to connect with flights to come to the BVI.

For a few of the airlines, the current runway length was a prohibitive factor. However, they emphasized their strong interest in the BVI and that they would be anxious to come to the BVI as soon as we extend our runway. They told us they are seeing that a significant number of their passengers to connecting airports have the BVI as their final destination. So, they know our potential once it becomes possible for them to land and take off. They have no doubt about the viability of our destination. This kind of interest and information will be very handy as we continue working on our plans for extending the runway.

Finally, Madam Speaker, some market expansion opportunities came up whereby we can tap into routes connecting through Guadeloupe. We had some positive discussions on this with Guadeloupe officials. Similarly, we explored opportunities for closer partnership with St Maarten and Puerto Rico that can help us to get more international passengers coming to the BVI.

We also discussed the prospect of staycation programmes between the BVI and St. Maarten, which would benefit the residents of both Territories. I should also point out that St Maartin and Puerto Rico officials promised to improve their guest experience at their airports for persons travelling to and from the BVI through their airports, which is something I think many of our people will be happy to hear.

Our delegation had some exploratory discussions with a firm of airport developers and managers on the pros and cons of such a company developing and managing our airport.  Our aim was to get a deeper perspective on what that kind of arrangement would look like. It is suitable for us to have this kind of knowledge to make informed decisions in the future.

As you can see, Madam Speaker, our delegation, did a lot of work at the Routes World 2022 event. The meetings were very fruitful and informative for us and laid some important and valuable groundwork for us to build on. One of the major takeaways was that the major airlines do have confidence in destination BVI, especially when we extending the runway length. It was very important for us to hear this firsthand from the airlines as we chart the way forward. Also, we have some potential opportunities for increasing airlifts, which we can now follow up on.

I am also happy and excited about some of the partnerships that we discussed, because the results of these kinds of initiatives would be increased visitor numbers for the BVI, which would create job and opportunities for our people, particularly in our tourism-related sectors.

As we follow up on the leads from these meetings, I will provide Honorable Members and the public with further updates. Madam Speaker I thank you.

Author

Department of Information and Public Relations (GIS)

354 James Walter Francis Drive
RJT Edifice Building, 5th Floor
Road Town, TORTOLA VG1110

Tel: 284 468 2730
Fax: 284 468 2750
Email: gis@gov.vg