The service provided by Virgin Atlantic over the last twenty years is most appreciated and the relationship has been highly respected. During the last twenty-one years, St. Lucia’s tourism industry has both matured and grown significantly. Today, St. Lucia is served by at least nine different airlines with an average daily number of some 1,300 arrivals and 1,300 departures. With the room stock likely to increase by some fifteen hundred rooms in the next two years, this represents a significant number. Like all industries, business patterns change on a regular basis and one significant game changer has been the birth of the Royalton Group in St. Lucia which provides a weekly charter service to St. Lucia of three hundred seats per week to and from the United Kingdom at special rates which equates to thirty thousand passengers annually. Needless to say, this puts pressure on both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways. Virgin Atlantic has three flights per week shared with Trinidad and Grenada respectively, but only provides 7 % of the total visitor arrivals to St, Lucia annually, while BA has seven flights weekly from the UK shared with Trinidad and Grenada respectively.
The current administration has long recognized the need for an increase in the nation’s room stock to keep the tourism industry vibrant and this is the first sign of the importance. On the other hand, airlines must accept the fact that they have the responsibility to fine tune their operations, remain competitive and not rely on MRGs ( Margin Rate Guarantees) once their bottom line starts wavering, bearing in mind that the oldest and not the most fuel efficient aircrafts are used in the region and by comparison the airfares are significantly higher than other competitive routes (just imagine a business class airfare from St. Lucia to London and back is EC$12,000).
If after twenty-one years in serving St. Lucia, Virgin Atlantic only provides 7% of our total arrivals and has not been able to regularize their costings and visitor arrivals despite the fact that St. Lucia contributes EC$750,000 annually towards their marketing program, speaks volumes.
Finally, it should be noted that in 2006 when BWIA sold their Heathrow slots to British Airways, no arrangements were made by the SLP administration to fill the void and it was the then Minister of Tourism (Senator Allen Chastanet) who immediately flew to the UK and met with the BA authorities to maintain at least one flight per week to St. Lucia. Today, BA has seven flights per week from London and seven flights a week to and from Trinidad which is huge. Any short fall from Virgin Atlantic will be quickly adjusted with additional BA flights if necessary. This does not mean that Virgin Atlantic will not be missed, but life must go on despite what changes take place.