British airline Virgin Atlantic, on Tuesday, announced that it will begin flying from London’s Heathrow International to Argyle International Airport (AIA) in St. Vincent in June 2021.
“We are honored to be here and formally announced the Virgin Atlantic is launching flights from London Heathrow into St. Vincent in June 2021,” Juha Jarvinen, chief commercial officer at Virgin Atlantic told a press conference at AIA, where the announcement was made.
He said that the airline will make two flights a week using its Airbus 330 aircraft “with amazing product in upper class”.
Jarvinen noted that Virgin Atlantic was established 36 years ago by British businessman, Sir Richard Branson, who now lives on Necker Island, in the British Virgin Islands.
“And so [the] Caribbean has always been crucial part of Virgin Atlantic’s history. And we’re always looking for new destinations, new opportunities. And when our teams looked into and discussed the opportunities with [the] team here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, it’s just amazing opportunity, and we believe [it] is a perfect timing after we emerge out of the crisis, hopefully by June 2021,” Jarvinen said.
He said there is huge pent up demand of Europeans and persons in the United Kingdom “to travel to these beautiful islands.
“And also, of course, the diaspora that we discussed already flying plane directly from London Heathrow to St. Vincent.
“Our upper class product which is the signature product that we have, we will have 31 seats in our upper class, we have upper class wing at London Heathrow or amazing clubhouse. It is the premium product out of London.
“And considering the target groups that you have here for tourism, it is a perfect match. We strongly believe that combining Virgin Atlantic and St. Vincent and Grenadines is the perfect match,” Jarvinen said.
He said it is also the right time for such a venture, adding that there are also opportunities for cargo.
“We’re able to carry a lot of cargo on our big planes. We should also explore opportunities more to make sure that we have smooth transport of logistics and supply chain. So we’re very keen to explore those opportunities further.”
On the issue of COVID-19, Jarvinen said:
“I do need to also give you huge credit, how the whole region has dealt with the COVID crisis and the very rigid procedures they’ve implemented. Because it is crucial to make sure that the tourism flows continue even during these difficult times.
“That is the best way to manage this transition. And hopefully very soon, we are in a situation where we can travel more normally again. But Virgin Atlantic is committed to the region; we are extremely excited to fly to St. Vincent Grenadines.”
Speaking at the event, Minister of Tourism, Cecil McKie welcomed Jarvinen and the airline.
“And I’m sure that we will have many, many more opportunities to welcome you to our shores. And eventually, to have you owning a part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and come in as often as you want and to stay as long as you want.”
McKie said that the government has made significant investment in AIA.
“And we are already seeing positive results and benefits. In fact, three years later, we have direct flights, international flights coming out of Toronto …, New York …, … and Miami.
“But the cry has always been what about the UK, because while we have a large diaspora in each of those three cities, we also have a very large diaspora in the UK…
“So you’re coming at an excellent time. And I dare say that the partnership that we are about to establish will be sustainable, because the demand is there. And as a destination, we have been shaping ourselves up within ourselves to welcome you to the destination, developing the various packages, so that we can join with you in marketing the destination, which is also going to be very important because we want you to fill your seats. And of course. you are anxious for us to be able to fill the rooms in terms of our hotel stock.”
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves said the event marked “a wonderful day,” adding, “And I feel like any words that I say will dilute the impact of the statement that was just made: Virgin Atlantic is coming from Heathrow to the Argyle International Airport starting in June, twice a week. That, in and of itself is wonderful news and we’re really happy to have you here.”
He noted that the airport, which opened in 2017 is new, adding that when it was being built,
questions were asked about where flights and tourist would come from.
He said there were questions about the number of hotel rooms in the country and whether the sequence was right.
“… and the prime minister said “Look, when we build it, they will come,” he said, noting that the first international flights were from the United States, using smaller aircraft.
He, however, noted that the economics of a flight from the United States is different from a transatlantic flight.
“And now we’re happy to say that underway, signed and sealed and being delivered are over 2,000 rooms,” he said and mentioned the hotels that are under construction or which would begin construction soon.
“And we think as Minister McKie said, that we have a very special destination here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I know that you’ll be collaborating on marketing with the Ministry of Tourism. And I know that the marketing program for St. Vincent and the Grenadines will not be a sort of off the rack marketing,” Gonsalves said.
And, Deputy Prime Minister Sir Louis Straker said:
“We are very happy to know that Virgin Atlantic has expressed an interest to be here. And we will be here come June 2021. It would mean a lot for us because we know on your brochures, you would be putting St Vincent and the Grenadines as one of your destination points. And people would be inquiring as to what exotic spot on earth could this be. We have always said this is the one place where you can go to paradise without dying. So we want you to bring them here so that they can enjoy paradise while they are alive…
“We are sure that there are many people who will rejoice that this day has come and since you’re the first airline from the British, from the United Kingdom, we have to treat you differently, especially when you have your first child. You go overboard in spending lavishly. In order to make sure we make ample provision, I’ve gone through that for the first child. Unfortunately, the second one and the third one usually get hand-me-down…”
Straker said that SVG looks forward to “a strong and a prosperous relationship with Virgin Atlantic.
“Our farmers would be happy; all of our people would be happy for we would be sharing with them our culture, our produce. We’d be sharing with them the hospitality that we have here in St. Vincent the Grenadines. And we trust that everything would go well. And that we would continue to develop this strong and loving relationship, caring relationship, you just bring them in.”