September 19, 2020

British Airways thanks trade for support to Caribbean


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getAsset.aspxBy Ian Taylor From Travel Weekly

Special Report: British Airways thanks trade for support to Caribbean

British Airways has reported strong sales to the Caribbean this summer. BA commercial head at Gatwick, Colm Lacy, spoke to Ian Taylor

British Airways sought trade support after boosting services to the Caribbean this summer – and it was not disappointed.

The carrier increased frequencies from Gatwick to Saint Lucia, Antigua, Kingston, Grenada and Punta Cana after adding a 10th Boeing 777 to its long-haul fleet at the airport and still saw its load factors on services go up.

Colm Lacy, BA’s commercial head at Gatwick, said: “We’re pleased with our performance. The Caribbean has been a big focus.

“We worked a lot with trade partners and hoteliers and we’ve seen an improvement in load factors. There has been a lot of activity in the market. We had this increase in capacity and we focused on the trade and tourist board partners with some great offers.”

The biggest campaign was in May when BA staged a near week-long ticket ‘giveaway’ at London’s Victoria station in partnership with Saint Lucia, Tobago and St Kitts.

“We gave away pairs of return tickets,” said Lacy. “We had more than 7,000 people play the game, with 48 winners a day.”

BA estimates the giveaway reached 6.2 million people “who saw or interacted with the event” via social media coverage.

Summer 2014 capacity

BA has operated 47 flights a week from Gatwick to the Caribbean this summer – a change from a year ago when it switched some capacity away from the islands to the US.

Lacy told Travel Weekly last year: “The capacity we took out reflected the economic conditions, the price of fuel and APD. We moved flying to the US, and Florida in particular.”

The market to the Caribbean picked up enough despite these factors to lead BA to put capacity back in this summer.

Lacy noted a number of reasons. One was a return of investment in hotels in the region and another was the marketing activity BA undertook.

He said: “We put significant investment into the Caribbean. We did more marketing.”

Lacy added that BA’s performance to the Caribbean last winter “made us confident for summer 2014”.

APD still an issue

High rates of Air Passenger Duty remain an issue, despite a welcome change in the tax band to the Caribbean next year.

The change, announced in March following years of lobbying by Caribbean governments and the industry’s Fair Tax on Flying coalition, will see flights to the Caribbean carry the same tax as to the US from April 2015.

But Lacy points out APD on long-haul flights will remain the highest air tax in the world.

He said: “Business overall has been impacted by APD so we remain disappointed with the government tax. There is still an annual increase. We continue to battle against it.”

However, there is some good news for the market – BA will not only reflect the lower APD rate to the Caribbean in fares, but also has lower lead-in fares on some routes.

Lacy said: “When APD on flights to the Caribbean comes down from April 2015, we’ll pass that through to consumers.

“We’ve also lowered lead-in fares to Antigua. We’re out in the market now with a fare sale. There are some really good fares.”

He gave the example of Antigua, available for £475 return, and said: “The trade will get all the fares.”

Winter schedule

BA will retain its 10-strong fleet of long-haul aircraft at Gatwick this winter, meaning additional capacity compared with winter 2013-14 thanks to the extra 777.

So services to Barbados will increase from 10 a week last winter to 12. Antigua services will go daily, up from six a week last winter. Saint Lucia will also have a daily direct flight.

Port of Spain, Trinidad, will be served five times a week and Grenada twice a week, both via Saint Lucia.

There will also be an additional BA flight to Tobago, taking the service to two a week. Kingston will see three flights a week and Bermuda five.

St Kitts will continue to receive two flights a week and BA will fly twice a week non-stop to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic where previously it operated three services via Antigua – meaning an increase in capacity. However, Lacy said: “The key benefit is being non-stop.”

BA will also offer services from Heathrow five times a week to Nassau and four times a week to Grand Cayman.

Agent fam trips

Travel agents can look forward to plenty more fam-trip opportunities to the region.

BA has taken 400 agents on BA fam trips this year and four trips are still to depart: a ‘super fam’ to Orlando for 50 agents on October 3-10; two fams to Saint Lucia, each for 10 agents, on October 1-8 and November 2-9; and a fam to Punta Cana for 10 agents on November 11-18.

Lacy said: “We’ve had more than 30 fam trips through 2014. One trip to Barbados had 60 agents and we’ve done 10 trips to Saint Lucia. We expect a similar number of fam trips next year.

“The key is that the hoteliers and tourism boards get value from it, but we believe we’re seeing the benefit. We expect to do a similar number. No one is talking about doing less.

“We want to make sure our trade partners are aware of what the islands have to offer.”

Lacy added: “We had extra seats this year and the trade helped fill them. More than half our bookings to the Caribbean come through the trade. Agents remain hugely important to our business.”

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