Four hundred and thirty four thousand visitors arrived in Trinidad and Tobago last year, Tourism Minister Chandresh Sharma said yesterday.
This falls some 66,000 short of the Ministry’s 500,000 target set for 2013.
Sharma gave the figure during a welcome ceremony celebrating low-cost airline JetBlue’s inaugural flight into Piarco International Airport yesterday.
Nevertheless, Transport Minister and Sharma’s predecessor at Tourism, Stephen Cadiz noted that over the last year and a half, three new airlines entered the local market (including Tobago), creating a 50 per cent growth in the market.
JetBlue’s first flight ever in the airline’s daily non-stop service between Port of Spain and JFK International in New York, USA, landed yesterday with a full load of 150 passengers, co-captained by Trinidadian-born pilot Capt Ron Woodruffe, who even though he wasn’t originally scheduled to fly the route, made sure he was part of the special day.
On May 1, JetBlue will begin a second non-stop daily service between Port of Spain and Hollywood International Airport, Ft Lauderdale, Florida, USA. When that happens, the airline will be effectively shuttling a maximum 600 passengers between its destinations.
JetBlue’s vice-president of government affairs Jeffrey Goodell said the Trinidad market was one in which the company had been very interested.
“We are not an airline that goes into a destination with a plan of ever leaving. We grow slowly to make sure it is sustainable. We plan to be here. We aim to be successful so we look to the (T&T) community as well as the diaspora community in New York to help ensure that’s true and we have every confidence that this will be a very successful route,” he said.
The airline is not afraid of competition, he said, its model is generally that if fares are increasing in a market, the company will try not to raise ticket prices, but rather, add more seats.
“Our experience has been that when Jet Blue enters a market we don’t need to steal market share; we are able to expand the pie to create demand and stimulate demand and we do that through low fares and great service. We are confident in our experience and product; when we come into a new market we feel very good, not only will we drive fares down but we will drive demand up,” he added.
Negotiations between JetBlue and the government started in April 2013.
In his national budget for fiscal 2013/2014, Finance Minister Larry Howai had announced the new service, stating it would begin in July 2014—so the service has arrived five months before schedule.
The average cost of round trip airfare on JetBlue starts from approximately $3,400, and only one piece of checked luggage is allowed.
The lowest fare from State-owned Caribbean Airlines for a round trip ticket to New York is $3,642, with two free pieces of checked luggage and free carry-on piece plus handbag or personal piece.