July 24th, 2023
The Progressives Opposition notes, with interest and some concern, today’s announcement by Minister Bryan of the new Cayman Airways Limited (CAL) air route to Barbados.
Of course, this route will make travel between the Cayman Islands, Barbados, and the Eastern Caribbean more accessible and enhance inter-region travel between Islands. That is certainly a positive aspect of the route. But first and foremost, the route must make sense for the Cayman Islands and Cayman Airways.
Despite the Chairman of CAL seeking to give assurances as to the viability of the route and its sister ‘route’ to Los Angeles, several questions remained unanswered.
As a part of the arrangement with Barbados, CAL also announced the introduction of a second flight to Los Angeles (LA) that will serve both the Cayman and Barbados markets. However, CAL stated that it is relying on travel numbers from Barbados to LA to make this second flight viable.
Worryingly, the Minister and CAL are proposing to start the flights during the slow season in October. This certainly seems detrimental to the viability and success of this second flight to LA. It does not seem like a business decision that CAL would usually take. This appears to have been acknowledged by the CAL Chairman, who said that he and the CAL board were not initially planning to provide a second flight at this time. But the partnership with Barbados was the impetus for starting in October.
We are also sceptical about Minister Bryan’s hope that many UK and European (EU) tourists will travel to the Cayman Islands via Barbados. The Minister did indicate that increasing arrivals from the UK and the EU would be a key measure for him as to the success of the new route for the Cayman Islands. We will see in the coming months how well the Barbados connection with the UK and, indeed, the second LA flight performs for the Cayman Islands and CAL.
At a time when recent stayover statistics indicate that both the Cayman Islands and Barbados are struggling to get back to 2019 tourism numbers, there is no room for the Barbados route to fail and not perform as anticipated for either country.
As CIG and CAL enter this new partnership with Barbados, it will also be important that the risks and rewards are clearly understood and suitably shared.
There may be many considerations in deciding on a new CAL route, but two questions should be asked and thoroughly answered. First, does a proposed new air route pose any undue increased financial or other risks to CAL and the Cayman Islands Government? And second, is there an alternative and more profitable route for CAL and the Cayman Islands that better uses CAL’s aircraft?
The answers to those questions were not fully explored during the announcement. Indeed the Press were limited in the questions they were allowed to ask. A question was posed to the Minister on cost sharing of the route, but Minister Bryan refused to give details regarding the financial arrangement with Barbados. He said the contract prevented the financial information from being advised to the public. Admittedly, that was undoubtedly concerning for many viewers to hear. There should be nothing to hide from the Cayman and Barbados public.
Also of concern was CAL stating that Barbados had not provided their marketing data/route analysis for CAL to consider when deciding on the route – including the viability of the second LA flight. Instead, CAL effectively relied on assurances that all would be well. We can only conclude that a formal and complete route analysis was not performed.
We hope the Minister was correct when he assured the press and the public that neither CAL nor the Cayman Islands would lose on an arrangement that includes twice weekly flights to Barbados on a Wednesday and Thursday and a second flight to LA. Only time will tell if he is right.
Without full transparency by Minister Bryan on any shared financing arrangements and route analysis (route viability), there is doubt about the viability of both the Barbados route and the second flight to LA. But the Opposition and the Caymanian people will undoubtedly hold the Minister to account if he gets this wrong.
To end, The Opposition does have concerns regarding the new route and additional LA flights. Whilst we may genuinely want the new route to succeed, it cannot be allowed to burden CAL or the Cayman Islands people unduly financially.