The two government-organised chartered flights that landed at the Argyle International Airport on Feb. 14 operated at a loss, head of the Tourism Authority, Glen Beache told a town hall meeting in Canada last week.
Beache has been reticent to the Vincentian media about the performance of the flights, which were not fully booked, contrary to his predictions that they would have sold out within an hour of the prices being announced.
He told the town hall meeting that for the Sunwing flight from Toronto, the SVG Tourism Authority charged CAD$899 for a return ticket because that is what they saw in the market, having looked at West Jet and Air Canada.
“I want to make that clear, because there is also the expertise that everybody knows what it takes to get a charter, we did not break even with those charters,” said Beache who repeatedly lashed out against social media commentators during his 25-minute presentation.
“In order to break even, we would have had to charge somewhere between 1100 and 1200 Canadian [dollars] just to break even per ticket. But we know that was a difficult sell and it was a special occasion,” he said of the flights the details of which were announced less than a month before they departed Canada.
Beache also announced that the Tourism Authority will not organise any chartered flights to St. Vincent for Easter.
He further said that for Vincy Mas, the Tourism Authority has checked with Transat, Sunwing, Air Canada, and West Jet.
“Every single airline is booked solid,” he said, adding that Air Canada and West jet are regularly scheduled airlines and to get a charter from one of these will cost more money because they have to remove an aircraft from a route.
“So you want to avoid that, but we did check. In order to get Sunwing or Transat, we would have had to book them since October last year.”
Beache, however, said that he can guarantee charters for Carnival, but the government would probably have to be prepared to operate it at a loss.
“But we know it is important because people want to have their direct flights; they don’t want to go through a Barbados, they don’t want to go through a Trinidad. I am hoping … probably within the next two weeks, we’d be able to announce what we are doing…” he said, adding that they would probably return to Canada after two weeks.
With the government prepared to contribute the additional cost for these charters, it means that the taxpayers would ultimately pick up the bill even as they have to also help to repay the EC$400 million debt on the airport.
Beache said the government is also looking at charters for the end of October going into November and operate these charters once a week until after Christmas for the Vincentian diaspora as well as for leisure travellers, because that is the beginning of the tourist season.
“Now, before some of those journalists who are trolling Facebook right now — and my friends here are going live on Facebook — say, ‘Well, Mr. Beache is announcing this it means they have no chance of getting any scheduled flights.’ That is not what I am saying. But we have to be prepared for anything. If the airlines are not happy with their forecasts, we have to provide information. We have to look at everything,” Beache said.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said this past week that he was using the media to put pressure on Beache and Minister of Tourism, Cecil “Ces” McKie to secure chartered international flight to St. Vincent for Vincy Mas.
Gonsalves said that the details of these flights should be announced in time to allow persons to make their travel arrangements.
Beache has, so far, failed in his five-year effort to convince any international carrier to make regularly scheduled flights to AIA, which opened on Feb. 14, six years behind schedule.