A lack of marketing support from the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has forced Virgin Atlantic Airways to pull its summer service to Tobago from March next year, Tourism Minister Stephen Cadiz confirmed yesterday.
Speaking to the Express by phone, Cadiz said Virgin Atlantic will cease its summer schedule from March to October next year.
"This was something we were trying to avoid," said Cadiz, adding that this blow to Tobago's tourism industry could have been avoided if the THA cooperated with the Ministry.
Cadiz said he was very disappointed with the line taken by the THA and had made several appeals for THA secretary of tourism Oswald Williams to discuss this issue in vain.
"It's definitely going to be a setback," said Cadiz adding that he held discussions with Caribbean Airlines (CAL) to see whether measures can be put into place to have CAL fly from Gatwick directly to Tobago.
Contacted yesterday, Williams preferred not to comment on the matter as negotiations were still taking place with Virgin Atlantic.
Told that there was confirmation that the airline will be pulling their service from March, Williams responded, "They have already decided to stop their summer schedule, we still have issues to deal with, we still have to talk about what happens after that and that is what we are discussing now," he said.
Williams said he responded to THA chief secretary Orville London whom Cadiz wrote to expressing concern over Virgin Atlantic's decision to pull out of Tobago. The Express obtained a copy of the letter, dated November 30 addressed to London.
Cadiz noted that on November 5, at a meeting at the World Travel Market in London, Virgin Holidays represented by Gaizka Fraser and Amanda Wills signalled the airline's move to withdraw its service from Tobago.
"At this meeting, Virgin Holidays indicated they were considering the reduced load factor and excess capacity into Tobago and the need for an increased marketing support. No decision was taken at the meeting, however, in discussions with Williams, he said, 'THA had it under control'," stated Cadiz in his letter to London.
Cadiz said that on November 26, Virgin Holidays had requested an "urgent conference" with him and Williams to discuss the fleet plans. He outlined his attempts to reach Williams on the matter, adding that Williams had indicated to him (Cadiz) that this was a matter for the THA and not the Ministry.
Cadiz stated that he held a teleconference with Fraser who informed him of Virgin's intent to pull out of Tobago.
"I again contacted Secretary Williams and asked what were the discussions held between Fraser and himself and what were the implications and the recommendations for Virgin, and was again advised by Secretary Williams—'that what was discussed was a matter for the THA and did not involve the Ministry of Tourism or the Central Government'," stated Cadiz.
Cadiz added that despite all assuranced given by Williams, Virgin Atlantic moved to cancel its summer schedule.
"I stated that I do not consider Virgin cancelling the summer schedule as a Tobago issue only but a National issue and that the Ministry of Tourism as well as the Central Government are here to assist in matters of National interest as well as Tobago's interest. Furthermore, that if my request to assist goes unheeded and Virgin goes ahead with the cancellation of their fleet, then the Central government will not and cannot be held responsible and a letter would be penned to you advising same," stated Cadiz.