Guyanese businessman, Gerald Gouveia, whose company, Roraima Airways, which is planning to expand into St. Vincent and the Grenadines, says that attracting large air carriers to a destination goes beyond the “build it (international airport) and they will come” mantra.
Gouveia’s company, Roraima Airways, facilitates charted flights from Cuba and New York to Guyana, and will have two of those flights land at Argyle International Airport on Feb. 14 — its official opening date — before going on to Guyana.
The businessman told iWitness News on Saturday that Guyana had suffered “because in these small countries, big airlines and especially large carriers such as American Airlines, a lot of them come to countries and start demanding subsidies from the government”.
Grenada was one of the destinations that had to pay subsidies, Gouveia said.
He, however, told iWitness News that Georgetown refused to pay those subsidies, and North American airlines, which serviced Guyana with their 767s for nine years, left.
Then Delta came for five years then left.
“When Delta left, we suffered; we suffered where economy tickets into Guyana moved from US$700 to US$1,800. We saw the numbers fall because our people in the diaspora could not afford to travel home. And tourists didn’t want to come because the prices were so high when we had a monopoly.”
Gouveia said that when Dynamic Airways went to Guyana, they were able to bring the prices back down.
“Right now, for the last four years, we have a stabilised price and we moved 8,000 people back and forth in and out of Guyana at between US$600 and US$700 a ticket from New York.
“So, international airlines are vital but it is hard to get the traditional [airlines],” Gouveia told iWitness News, adding, “Barbados has been around for a long time, and they are fortunate.”
In drumming up support for the airport, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has pointed to a magazine’s “build it and they will come” headline of a story about the airport.
When told about this mantra, Gouveia said, “No, no, no. It doesn’t happen like that…”
Head of the SVG Tourism Authority, Glen Beache, may have come to realise this, having failed, so far, to attract any large international carrier to Argyle after years of trying and even amidst his claims that he was close to sealing a deal with this or that carrier.
Gouveia told iWitness News that the Guyana government joined a United Kingdom organisation that helps to market the country, adding that that is how Dynamic Airlines and COPA airlines started servicing Guyana.
“They have these conferences and they match airlines with countries. Countries go out there, you tell them about your airport and airlines go to those conferences. That’s how COPA came to Guyana and that’s how Insel Air came to Guyana and that is how Dynamic came to Guyana,” Gouveia said.
“St. Vincent would have to do the same thing. They have to market the country, they have to market the airport and airlines will see it. You can’t market St. Vincent alone. You have to market St. Vincent now as a connecting hub around the region as well.”
Guyana’s 800,000 represents a population almost eight times that of SVG. It, therefore, stands to reason that Guyana has a larger diaspora in the United States.
But notwithstanding this, Gouveia struggles to fill one of his charter flights, telling iWitness News that, “unfortunately”, Dynamic operates 767 aircraft, which carry 250 or 280 passengers.
“During Christmas, our flights are very full, but, generally, during the year — like right now, we have to move our flights down (decrease). We are probably doing like three or four flights a week now because we can’t, we can’t fill a 767.”
He told iWitness News that a lot of carriers fly to Guyana via Barbados or Trinidad.
“And this is where the entrepreneurial nose comes in. I am saying we could now link up through St. Vincent. So, if we have 50 people, 60 people from St. Vincent that they want to travel back and forth. This is just diaspora and then, of course, you have tourists and you have business people who may want to come,” Gouveia told iWitness News.
He said the treatment of passengers in-transit is very important, adding that Guyanese passengers are furious about how they are treated in Trinidad.
“We have tremendous amounts of complaints,” Gouveia told iWitness News, adding that because of those complaints, Guyana makes the Surinamese who transit there on their way to Miami on Suriname Airways, feel welcome.
“And that is what St. Vincent will have to do… That in-transit will have to happen within an hour. It has to happen smoothly and seamlessly and the Guyanese passengers, if they start to complain about it, then it becomes a problem.”