Saint Lucia’s opposition leader, Philip J. Pierre, has described as ‘unfortunate’ and ‘not good news for Saint Lucia’, the decision by Virgin Atlantic to scrap flights from London Gatwick to this country come June next year.
The United Kingdom is Saint Lucia’s second biggest tourism market.
Pierre, a former Tourism Minister, told MBC Television News that the Virgin announcement was not good news for Saint Lucia’s tourism industry.
“We have always said that Saint Lucia depends on tourism, but many of the factors that determine what happens in tourism are beyond our control,” he explained.
Pierre said that as a result his Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) is concerned about the over half a billion dollar investment in the Hewanorra International Airport redevelopment project.
“It is said that the airport will be paid (for) on landing fees – it will be paid for on airport tax. Now we have Virgin Atlantic, that’s a major player for the UK market, no longer coming in,” Pierre told MBC News.
“That’s the risk I always spoke about when I advised the government to embark on a PPP arrangement instead of borrowing money. If we were under a PPP, that risk would not be ours,” he asserted.
He explained that the risk would be on the partners in the PPP.
“I am saying to the government – it is not too late to come out of that arrangement. It is not too late for the benefit of the young people of Saint Lucia,” the Castries East MP stated.
Pierre declared that the announcement of the Virgin Atlantic pullout confirms and solidifies the position of the SLP that the best way to have built the airport would have been through a PPP.
Virgin has blamed the decision to cease its flights here on a variety of economic factors.
But Saint Lucia has indicated that the pullout was linked to a stalemate over subsidies.
Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee in a statement last week said Virgin indicated to local tourism officials that in order to continue operating its existing five flights weekly in the winter months, and three in the off season summer months, it would require EC$20 million or USD7.5 million over three years.
“Two other options were presented to us which would mean a significant reduction in Virgin Atlantic flights to our shores and did not present the best return on a potential investment,” Fedee explained.
“It is our strong belief that agreeing to Virgin Atlantic’s demands for a multimillion dollar subsidy, would have opened the door for other airlines to also ask for subsidy,” the minister stated.