AUDIO INCLUDED IN THIS STORY: On the heels of American Eagle stopping service on the St. Maarten-San Juan route as of April 1 comes the news that the destination will lose GOL Airlines as of this Saturday, March 12.
St. Maarten Tourist Office Director Regina Labega confirmed on Thursday that the flight would "definitely be stopping."
Minister Franklin Meyers will now elaborate more on this issue:
The announcement is a major disappointment for the destination after significant time was spent pushing the importance of St. Maarten’s ventures into the lucrative South American market. The year-round weekly flight which started in June 2010 resulted in increased arrivals for 2010 from South America, three-times more than the previous year or approximately 20 per cent higher than 2009.
After a strong start, however, load factors peaked and dipped significantly, with the flight never being consistently full. GOL’s management opted not to continue taking that risk and decided to stop the flight.
The Saturday flight, which started in Sao Paulo, made a stop at Manaus and then on to St. Maarten, sometimes brought less than 30 people to the island.
Government was supposed to allot some US $300,000 to market the flight, but it remains unclear if that amount was actually committed to marketing. While the airline wanted St. Maarten to guarantee seats, it has never been St. Maarten’s philosophy to do so or pay an airline to start service to the island. St. Maarten’s contributions have always come from the marketing aspect for any new flight.
Labega explained that GOL will maintain a charter rotation (so one rotation being a single flight back and forth) in June, July and December of this year and then January and February of 2012. Ironically, the final flight on Saturday is booked solid with 177 passengers.
From the beginning GOL had sought assistance from St. Maarten in aggressively marketing the flight to ensure its success. When service started GOL wanted to feel secure that the destination will do its share towards the success of the service.
It was essential for St. Maarten to commit funding to the marketing program and secure the service since the competition in the region for GOL’s service was increasing, considering the fast growing South American travel market.
An agreement with Barbados was inked for GOL’s service to that island last summer. GOL, the largest low-cost and low-fare airline in Latin America, had also launched scheduled flights to Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. Caribbean destinations had been very aggressive in committing millions to securing the flight.
Another aspect that reportedly "turned off" the Brazilian traveller was that St. Maarten as a destination did not cater to their specific needs. Brazil has a very diverse population with diverse tastes, represented by their destination choices.
When St. Maarten was actively pursuing the GOL flight Labega stressed that the public and the private sector had to understand the type of travellers the Brazilians were and had to provide the level of service accordingly. This starts from moment of entry, which is 10:30pm on Saturday nights. They also depart late at approximately 9:30pm.
As such, she explained, the Brazilian traveller, if St. Maarten wants them to return, has to be provided with service at the Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA), from management right down to the stores. During their stay, they tend to do things much later in the evening/early morning hours than the typical US traveller for example, and spend more.
The destination, she said, would not be making a good impression if PJIA is a ghost-town when Brazilians arrive and depart. The Brazilian traveller is also looking for full resort services which are renowned in brand name hotels.
Labega also said the biggest threat to a sustainable effort from St. Maarten in the South American market is funding, or lack thereof, and the added bureaucracy in the process of disbursement of funds, marketing or otherwise.
Ultimately, she said, this could have an impact on the relationship with the cooperative partners and scheduled service to the destination given the level and security of sustainable funding, the commitment of funding inconsistent with the marketing planning cycle and constraints of funding (liquidity). In that light she said all efforts should be made for finally establishing a tourism authority or a public – private sector infrastructure.
"Focus on the South American market can be compared to a game of "in and out." Either you get in as a destination, or get left out of a vital source market that’s projected to rival traditional markets in the West for the next decade," she said last year.
STORY TAKEN FROM WWW.THEDAILYHERALD.COM
AUDIO DONE BY WWW.PEARLFMRADIO.COM