Saturday, 3 December 2011

Redjet Now Flying to St. Lucia - Discount Airlines and Regional Travel

Yesterday Redjet, a Barbados-based discount airline owned by Irishman Ian Burns, announced the start of its much anticipated route between St. Lucia (UVF) and Barbados (BGI). With fares starting at $9.99 (one-way before taxes) this is great news for the small hotels in St. Lucia who rely heavily on the Barbados market. It also breaks the nearly decade-long stranglehold that LIAT (the largest regional airline operating in St. Lucia) has had on the busy St. Lucia-Barbados route. 

A press release yesterday from the low fares carrier said that it will be flying from the 16th December in time for the Christmas and New Year break.

It is interesting to note that with taxes included, this fare of $9.99 each way quickly balloons to $75 return. Clearly further work is needed on the part of the regional governments to reduce the taxes and fees that often account for more than 50% of the cost of a regional flight. 

For the last 5 years, St. Lucia has witnessed double digit declines in arrivals from the Caribbean market. Regional leisure travel as all but dried up with many Barbadians preferring to pay an additional $100 to fly to Miami rather than pay $300 and up for a 40 minute flight to St. Lucia. 

The arrival of Redjet into St. Lucia hopefully marks the beginning of a turnaround in arrivals out of the 
critical Barbados market. But the small hotels who rely on this should not celebrate too quickly. While Redjet's fares are substantially lower than LIAT's there are other hidden costs (beyond the taxes alluded to earlier). There are additional charges for checked baggage (between $10-$20 per bag). Persons who are used to flying with Europen discount airlines such as Easyjet or Ryan Air would not doubt be accustomed to this but this would be new to Barbadians and St. Lucians. 

It will also be interesting to see how Bajans who have become accustomed to the 20 minute, $20 USD taxi ride from George FL Charles Airport to the hotels in the north of the island adjust to the 90 minute, $80 USD taxi trip from Hewannora International Airport. The idea of a 90 minute drive after a 40 minute flight may not appeal to all and the additional taxi fare may cause some to  be indifferent between LIAT and Redjet. Only time will tell but it brings into focus the need to create an faster, alternate route from Vieux Fort in the south (where Hewannora International is located) to Castries/Gros Islet in the North (where many of St. Lucia's 
hotels are located). Some hotels in the north (primarily Barbadian favourites Bay Gardens Resorts and Coco Resorts) may well consider including airport transfers in their packages to defray that additional cost. Moreover, some of the hotels near to UVF in Vieux Fort are likely to benefit greatly from having Bajan arrivals so close to their doorstep (Coconut Bay in particular). 

So celebrations of Redjet's arrivals to our shores should be tempered but nonetheless this is good news for both St. Lucia and Barbados. 

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