LIAT reconnecting the US Virgin Islands with the Caribbean
For a region of small islands located in relatively close proximity to each other, there is no end of challenges in getting from one to the next.
Residents of the US Virgin Islands (USVI) would feel the brunt of this in early 2017 when regional airline LIAT announced it would be discontinuing its Antigua to St Croix and St Thomas routes in March and June of that year respectively.
For LIAT, the routes were axed following a route analysis which highlighted several issues with the service to those islands.
Speaking to the media during a press trip coordinated by the US Virgin Islands Department of Tourism in partnership with LIAT, Corporate Communications Manager for the airline Shavar Maloney indicated that port charge increases, which were due to come on stream, as well as challenges in routing through St Maarten were some of the factors that contributed to the decision to pull out.
The announcement, Lieutenant Governor Osbert Potter said, came as a blow to the citizens and residents of the USVI, many of whom, he said, are from other islands in the Caribbean.
Potter spoke of the time-consuming and costly length that US Virgin Islanders then had to resort to in order to visit neighbouring islands, having to fly to Tortola or Miami first to catch connecting flights onwards.
The Lieutenant Governor, who is up for reelection on November 6, lead the charge in negotiations with the regional carrier, in an effort to reestablish the discontinued routes to his islands.
Potter flew to Antigua to meet with LIAT management to begin discussing the issues with the route and what he could do to assist.
Following the meetings, Potter said he connected LIAT with the USVI’s Port Authority and Homeland Security to address issues he felt were ‘never something that was insurmountable.’
According to the Lieutenant Governor, “I thought that someone needed to be actually pushing the issue, guiding it, making sure it happens, rather than just saying ‘Ok, we should do something’ and leaving it there and hope that it happens.”
His efforts were not in vain.
LIAT announced in March 2018 that it would be resuming its route to St Thomas.
There are no immediate plans to relaunch the Antigua to St Croix route, but Maloney says assessments are constantly being made to determine the viability of returning to previously discontinued routes.
The service to St Thomas resumed on July 2, 2018, and so far, the response has been positive.
Maloney says LIAT is committed to working with the US Virgin Islands Department of Tourism on the route and how it is performing.
“We had a good summer in terms of our load factor on that flight. It was over 80 percent for July and August, so we were very happy about that, and that is a peak period for travel. What we’ve said is that we’re going to work with them going forward to ensure that they see year-round service is sustained and that we have persons who are going to travel on the service whether it be a peak period or not,” Maloney said.
Commissioner of Tourism of the US Virgin Islands, Beverly Nicholson-Doty told Loop that the return of LIAT to its shores was of great importance to the islands’ tourism industry.
She said, “LIAT returning to the US Virgin islands is so important. It’s important in terms of visitors coming to the Territory, and we’re talking about Caribbean people visiting each other. The other part that is extremely important is that the Virgin Islands is a callaloo...and the truth is that we have people here from all over the Caribbean so LIAT’s role is extremely important because it doesn’t just connect visitors to our Territory, it connects families.”
The Commissioner estimates that the US Virgin Islands receive around 30,000 to 40,000 regional visitors a year. She identified Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and St Lucia as nations with strong ties to the USVI.
LIAT flies from Antigua to St Thomas on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.