Commercial activity seen as main boost for CAL-Cuba route
Commercial activity is being seen as one of the motivating factors to fill Caribbean Airlines seats from Cuba.
Speaking to Loop during a three-day FAM tour in Cuba over the weekend, Dionne Ligoure, Communications Manager for CAL, said the flights facilitate the needs of the Cubans.
“You have a lot of traders travelling to different parts of the region in order to return to Cuba to sell their goods, so you are speaking about trade in terms of Southbound and Northbound you have vacationers. Cuba is ripe for business. Increasingly, business people are looking towards Cuba as a viable market within our Caricom region. There has always been that agreement, starting in the days of Eric Williams when they basically defied the United States and continued relations with Cuba,” said Ligoure.
“Caricom has enjoyed 45 years of diplomatic relations with Cuba which was further enhanced last year at the Cuba-Caricom summit so you find in the coming months and years trade will open up. There are a number of new items on the list for trade and exchange and people are capitalising on that because the Cuban market is 11.5 million people. So Caribbean Airlines is here to support commerce, to support business and leisure travellers and to connect the region.”
CAL made its inaugural flight into Cuba last Saturday morning and left that afternoon with 110 Cubans bound for Guyana.
Asked if the airline was assured there would be enough bodies to fill seats from Cuba, Ligoure said they are cautiously optimistic given the healthy look of the forward bookings.
“We are very closely managing that. Things are supported with our boots on the ground and our respective marketing campaigns to continue to create awareness and continue to keep our load factors at a healthy level to sustain the operation but it takes time when you get into any new market to build the route,” she said.
Asked how Cubans are booking flights since Internet service is not widely available across the island so the online option is not available, Ligoure likened the Cubans to water.
“They find a way and you find that the distribution network throughout the 800 end to end miles of Cuba very well organised so that you are aware the State is responsible for everything so the State agencies are spread throughout all of the regions in Cuba so you find there are offices and people go actively to the offices looking for opportunity. We have partnered with these agencies so information on Caribbean Airlines is readily available which is why you find the forward projections are looking quite healthy,” she said.
The service will run twice-weekly (Tuesday and Saturday) from Trinidad with connections to and from Guyana, Barbados and Grenada.
On the inaugural flight were T&T Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee Scoon, ExporTT executives, CAL executives including Chairman Shameer Ronnie Mohammed and CEO Garvin Medera as well as travel agents and the media.
Travel agents were excited about the new destination.
Andy Willoughby of Willoughby Travels told Loop he is optimistic about the new route as it provides a new option for regional travellers.
He urged CAL to provide packages for agents to sell as well as incentives for them to whet the appetite of the public.
“That is in progress,” said Ligoure. “The way things work in Cuba, there are some things we have to understand. The Cuban market is a different market because of the role of the State, everything has to be processed. We already have packages and rates and is just a question of everything has to be signed.”
Ligoure said the purpose of the FAM trip was to give Caribbean people a sense of what the island has to offer and to help stakeholders sell the island.
“This familiarisation tour was an opportunity for stakeholders to have a first-hand experience of what is available in this mythical and captivating destination.”
Ligoure urged Caribbean nationals to also consider Cuba as a connection point to Russia for the Olympics as there are non-stop flights from the island to Russia as well as other countries such as Mexico and Argentina.