Saturday, December 16, 2017

Cadiz: Virgin Atlantic will be invited to return

As soon as upgrade works at the ANR Robinson International Airport in Crown Point, Tobago, are completed, UK airline Virgin Atlantic will be invited to return its service to the island, Transport Minister Stephen Cadiz said yesterday.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Cadiz said Virgin Atlantic, which first started flying to Tobago in May 2003, was a good flag to have and it was “very sad to see them go”.

At the Tobago House of Assembly’s (THA) post-Executive Council meeting, Secretary for Transport and Tou­rism Tracy Davidson-Celestine announced that at the end of this month (the winter cycle) Virgin Atlantic will no longer be flying to Tobago. 

The reason given by the airline is the airport’s infrastructure is not up to Virgin’s standards. The loss of the airline means 266 fewer seats every week flying to the tourism-dependent island. 

“For some time now we have been pursuing upgrades to the ANR Robinson International Airport, and these works have not really started.”

Cadiz said upgrades have begun to improve the airport’s infrastructure. “We take what (Virgin) is saying and will do whatever we can to ensure ANR International is in good repair and secure. Yes, we want them back,” he said.

Even though Virgin has not renewed its contract with the THA, the assembly has signed extensions with two other UK airlines—British Airways (BA) and Monarch. The BA arrangement will add 41 seats, but still not nearly enough to offset the loss of Virgin. 

Cadiz said between 2012 and 2013, four new flights to Tobago had been added, and even though Tobago was no longer a Virgin destination, the market was still attractive. 

The Tobago Division of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce said yesterday the pull-out of Virgin Atlantic was a “very serious and ominous development” for the island. “The fact remains that the ANR International Airport suffers from poor infrastructure and the room stock in Tobago remains woefully inadequate in terms of room count and standard, and with no comprehensive plan for the way forward in both these areas. We question the sustainability of these additional flights, if these issues are not resolved,” the division said.

“The Tobago Division does not believe that adequate attention is being paid by the Government to Tobago’s tourism product, which remains the island’s economic mainstay. Tourism is already in a fragile state and has been spiralling downward for quite some time. This pull-out by Virgin will result in not only a loss of revenue and jobs, but also a deterioration of Tobago’s international image. We urge the authorities to act with haste on this matter,” it added.