Former airport-director Labega at aviation conference: “Airports are gateways, not destinations”POSTED: 06/21/16 5:40 PM
St. Maarten News – Former airport director Regina Labega spoke about sustainable tourism as a key for Caribbean airports at the first Caribbean Aviation conference hosted by the government of Dominica earlier last week in Rousseau.
Sustainable tourism can be defined as Jamie Lisse of Demand Media does, as: “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities,” Labega said.
“The Caribbean Region is perhaps the most tourism-intensive region in the world,” Labega stated, quoting CTO statistics that show that tourism was responsible for about 14% of total GDP and generated about 12% of Caribbean employment (both direct and indirect) in 2012.
In 2011 there were about 21 million international tourist arrivals in the Caribbean bringing in a revenue of $24.5 billion, with a direct GDP contribution of $15 billion, an indirect contribution of $32 billion, and creating 614,000 direct jobs.
Labega pointed out the crucial role of aviation in supporting tourism, “with over 54% of international tourists now traveling by air.”
Arguing that airports are the gateways and not the destinations, Labega said “Regional airports can be valuable assets in sustainable tourism development. Airports are the destination’s number one asset to sustain, grow and diversify its economy. Airports, therefore, need to be treated as such by governments. Visitors to a country get their first and last impression of that country at the airport.”
Airports can improve the passenger experience through management of efficient, safe and quality aeronautical services, Labega said. “They can enhance the passenger experience as was done at the airport in St. Maarten with the food and beverage outlets. Research has shown that airports with the best quality passenger experience attract transit passengers who, in turn, support more routes.”
Labega offered five recommendations to regional governments: 1. Invest money to promote their destinations; 2. Eliminate lengthy visa processes; 3. Facilitate easier travel to and within the region; 4. Open up air markets (by allowing countries to start services without having to go through lengthy government-to-government negotiations for every new route or airline); and, 5. Periodically review the capacity of airports and air traffic infrastructure compared to projected tourist demand.
“Sustainable tourism is a permanent work in progress that requires the active involvement by all stakeholders. The role of airports for sustainable tourism is based on the fundamental dependence of the economies of the various islands in the region on the tourism industry,” Labega said. “In the end, sustainable tourism is the key to an airport’s development and the airport is the key to sustainable tourism.”
The focus of the conference was on experience exchange, interaction and participation, rather than on listening to speakers’ career or company’s achievements.