Increased traffic from additional airlines – Copa Airlines returns to St. Maarten

POSTED: 11/15/12 1:09 PM

St. Maarten – At least two flights of Panamanian carrier, Copa Airlines will return to St. Maarten during this season, Tourism and Transport Minister Romeo Pantophlet said yesterday following his return from Panama to salvage relations with Copa to get two at  least Copa flights back on the St. Maarten route. Ideally, St. Maarten wants at least four flights per week as of next and daily flights in the future.

Copa threatened in September to cut down the number of flights because the government of St. Maarten owed the government in Panama $433,000 based on a commercial agreement about the promotion of Copa Airlines.

“Because of the inefficiency, bureaucracy, red tape in the government apparatus and particularly at the tourist office because of the lack of marketing funds, two flights were basically taken out,” Pantophlet said of the reasons that led to the fallout.

He travelled to Panama last Friday along with a delegation that consisted of Collectivité President Alain Richardson, airport Director Regina Labega, the Vice-president of the French-side tourist bureau Jeanine Vanterpool, the tourism secretary of Anguilla Hayden Hughes, and the Director of Tourism in St. Barth’s, Inès Choisy.

Prior to the delegation’s visit a new marketing plan was developed and the airline received funds from St. Maarten ($433,000) and Anguilla ($100,000), Pantophlet said.

Pantophelt said that he anticipates St. Barth’s and French St. Martin will follow suit to arrive at a total of $700, 000 for marketing purposes.

However he accepted no responsibility for the Copa Airlines fallout.

“From the first day that I took office I was working on getting those funds released to the Inter-American Marketing Company. It was finally done and those funds with the Anguilla funds, we are confident that the advertising will provide good results.”

A re-evaluation of the agreement will be done in January, Pantophlet said, adding that from late January to early February, the third Copa flight is expected to be reintroduced.

Sometime between June and July, which is the high season for Panama, the fourth Copa flight is expected to return to the St. Maarten route.

The Panama visit also included discussions about “working towards the medium range plans to have daily flights from Copa.”

“That is going very well and we can expect quite an increased amount of passengers coming to St. Maarten for the next season from South America,” the minister said of the negotiations.

Two Brazilian airlines may also be coming to St. Maarten, following initial discussions that Pantophlet had while in Panama.

Increased Airline Traffic from Major Airlines

Pantophlet also revealed that he has been in talks with Air Berlin while in Germany recently.

“Air Berlin is extremely interested in coming to St. Maarten, we have agreed that we will look into one flight coming to St. Maarten specifically and we are also in the process of working out with them that we share a flight with Curacao, they currently go to Curacao. We are working on that feverishly to get that accomplished,” he said.

The airline has already sent a price to St. Maarten but Pantophlet said that he is still to review it with his advisory team.

He also met with the executives of KLM in Amsterdam to negotiate the lowering of rates for St. Maarten passengers. The airline is the sole carrier to the Netherlands and has a monopolistic position, so it was not easy but the minister believes that St. Maarten is well on its way to receiving lower fares.

“We had some serious discussions with them. The average fare with KLM is like $749.00, if you compare that with Curacao it is somewhere around $520.00 and Aruba $630.00, so we are negotiating to try to get similar to the Aruba fares.”

Another Dutch airline, ArkeFly, could also create the healthy competition that KLM needs.

If government reaches an agreement, St. Maarten will see a return of ArkeFly which travelled here consistently until 2007.

“They are very much interested again interested in coming to St. Maarten. Agreements were made and they will be coming to St. Maarten for an onsite visit.”

He explained that the airline prefers to work with all inclusive and since St. Maarten was not offering this, the destination was not attractive. However the Maho Group of Companies recently started promoting all inclusive packages and this gave ArkeFly an incentive to return to the island.

“We are looking at earlier next year to get those flights going,” the minister said.

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