LOOP: According to Tourism Minister Dr Ernest Hilaire, regional travel to Saint Lucia remains low compared to international travel.
Speaking to the media earlier this week, Dr Hilaire attributes the low figures to the ongoing challenges with regional carrier LIAT.
“If you look at our tourism arrivals now compared to 2019, which was our best year, our international arrivals are actually on par and even higher than 2019. But the regional travel is disastrous for us,” Dr Hilaire, the Minister for Investment, stated.
He recalled that at the CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting, Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves indicated how the region would move forward regarding LIAT and regional travel.
“I think we are looking for more action. We need the regional travel not just for Carnival, but for Saint Lucia.”
According to Dr Hilaire, “Saint Lucia is a preferred regional destination, and our numbers are way down for regional travel.”
Dr Hilaire bemoans the region’s travel state and believes much more can be done to save it and improve regional travel.
The cash-strapped airline is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, and St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said previously that a decision had been taken that would allow Barbados and SVG to turn over their shares in LIAT to St John’s for one EC dollar.
According to Dr Hilaire, the preferred route would be to subsidize LIAT’s operations, considering investing in private airlines for the region has proven unsuccessful.
“The history of airlines in the Caribbean is that when we have relied on private airlines, they pull out on us whenever the going gets tough. Unfortunately, it has happened repeatedly, so if the people of the region own LIAT, let us make a determined effort to get LIAT functioning as best as we could,” Dr Hilaire remarked.
“Even if we have to subsidize LIAT, the value of regional travel..the free movement of people as well as for economic reasons is significant,” he added. LOOP
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