British Airways Shows Interest in Servicing St Maarten’s PJIAE

United Kingdom (UK) flagship, British Airways (BA) is very interested in commencing service to the Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM). This was revealed by SXM Airport Managing Director, Regina LaBega, following a recent meeting in Martinique with Colm Lacy, Head of the Commercial Division of BA.

The meeting was facilitated by executives of Menzies Aviation, with the main aim of familiarizing BA with SXM as a preferred hub for the country partners Anguilla, St. Barths, and Dominica, who were also represented at the meeting. Minister of Economic Affairs, Tourism, Transport and Telecommunications (TEATT), Ted Richardson was represented by his Chef du Cabinet, Ludwig Ounniche.

In his PowerPoint presentation, Jerome Gumbs of the Marketing and Customer Service Department of SXM outlined the physical infrastructure, air services and expansion projects currently being undertaken at the airport.

According to LaBega, it was clear that the relationship among the country partners and the importance of SXM to their tourism industry resonated well with the BA representatives who noted how a combined Caribbean offered an enhanced market opportunity.

L-R: Ludwig Ounniche, Chef du Cabinet of the Minister of Tourism, St. Maarten, Regina LaBega, Managing Director of SXM Airport, Colm Lacy, Head of BA Commercial Division, Haydn Hughes, Parliamentary Secretary Tourism, Anguilla, and Louis Halley, Head of Civil Aviation, St. Maarten. (SXM Photo)

L-R: Ludwig Ounniche, Chef du Cabinet of the Minister of Tourism, St. Maarten, Regina LaBega, Managing Director of SXM Airport, Colm Lacy, Head of BA Commercial Division, Haydn Hughes, Parliamentary Secretary Tourism, Anguilla, and Louis Halley, Head of Civil Aviation, St. Maarten. (SXM Photo)

BA took good note of the capacity of SXM and the initiative to establish pre-clearance there which received the enthusiastic support of Anguilla as well as the number of UK visitors to St. Maarten, which stood at 14,500 in the period October 2010 – September 2011. It was pointed out that this figure was achieved without any marketing and with no direct flights from the UK to SXM.

In order to exploit this opportunity, SXM and the country partners were seeking to establish a strategic partnership with BA because of its understanding of the dynamics of the Caribbean market vis-à-vis its culture, people and features.

Pointing to the fact that SXM has conducted preliminary research into the UK market, LaBega stressed that some of the country partners already have both an established presence in that market as well as a relationship with BA and its vacation arm, British Vacations.

“We are confident,” she said, “that the product range of our country partners – and past experience supports this – meets the needs of key segments of the UK market, particularly in the upper and middle segments thereby providing an airline partner with a very attractive fare mix, from first class to economy class, on a possible UK – SXM route.”

Indeed, the interest shown recently by Virgin America in establishing service to SXM is testimony to the attractiveness of the destinations to the upper and middle class markets,” LaBega added.

She expressed great satisfaction at the strong support that the country partners present at the meeting gave SXM, particularly in recognizing it as their own international airport.

We really spoke with one voice, as one destination and I’m sure this resonated well with the BA representatives,” she said, stressing that the soon-to-be-established Air Service Development Committee between the country partners will be the entity that will develop a joint marketing strategy and determine the marketing budget in consultation with BA.

For his part, BA’s Lacy said the timing was right for this initiative, given that the airline is now preparing its 2014-2015 winter schedule and is expected to increase service to Jamaica and a couple of other Caribbean destinations.

Lacy was not only interested in the hotel stock and the type of rooms available but also in the expansion that was planned in each of the destinations in the next 3-5 years.

He similarly took particular note of the large number of visitors to SXM who took day trips to Anguilla as well as the potential of a multi-destination travel opportunity. So impressed was the BA representative, that he requested a copy of the presentation.

The ball is in our court now to follow up speedily and explore this possibility to its fullest,” added LaBega.

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