Shopping in St. Maarten core part of Liat’s future strategy

POSTED: 10/17/11 11:45 AM

Regional carrier Liat marks 55 years

ST. JOHNS / By Andrew Bishop – Liat’s Chief Executive Officer Brian Challenger announced at a press conference Friday that the airline is adding a fourth S to the region’s key marketing strategy of Sun, Sea and Sand. The new S will mean three different things as the airline, which just turned 55, seeks to attract “serious shoppers”, “sports people”, and “students.” The new targeted strategy will be rolled in forthcoming media campaigns.
The shopping element will include packages put together with the authorities in St. Maarten and Puerto Rico. St. Maarten is part of the deal because it’s considered “the shopping Mecca of the Caribbean. Discussions on this new shopping strategy are at the advanced stages and the packages will include lower fares and discounts on shopping, car rentals and hotel accommodation. A key hope for this project is that regional governments will waive departure taxes for shoppers who spend less than 24 hours in the country.

The sports element will begin with a pilot project that revolves around St. Vincent and the Grenadines that was initiated by the country’s Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who has led the discussions on the project and is keen to see it take off.
The element around students is focused on giving students at the region’s university’s leeway in terms of baggage allowances and package deals on travel during the school term. These special incentives are being offered because “students have it very hard.”
Liat is already assisting students by running a scholarship program that finances the studies of people who want to become aeronautical engineers. A first batch of six students is on the brink of completing four years of study at the Aeronautical Institute in Guyana and another five are set to begin in January 2012. Students who participate in the scholarship program are then bonded to work for Liat.
“Even though there are shortcomings in our engineering department we are proud of it and the achievements it has made and from my perspective the work they produce is of a higher standard than what is delivered by people from Costa Roca and Panama,” Challenger said.
Seniors are another target group for the airline. The Barbados Association of Retired People has taken the lead in this light and the airline has agreed to craft discounted fares and arrange packages, especially when seniors travel in groups.

New routes
Challenger also announced on Friday that the airline wants to expand its network to include Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and to Haiti. The move to the Dominican Republic is an attempt to tap “the largest tourist center in the region” and the move to Haiti is so the airline can alleviate the “serious difficulties” the Haitian people are having in travelling through the region.
“We’ve had discussions with the Haitian government but they had to be deferred after the major earthquake made things topsy turvy. Liat is the Caribbean airline and as such we see ourselves playing a leading role,” Challenger said.
The airline already has a broad regional scope because it flies destinations that span from the Dominican Republic in the North to Guyana in the South and covers all the language groups in the region.

Continued confidence/Partnership
The airline CEO stressed that the commitment and pride of the airline’s employees is what allows them to mark 55 years. He also stressed that partnership will be the only way to carry the airline forward.
“Partnership is critical for the survivability of the region and the airline industry. We remain very confident in the viability of our company notwithstanding the difficulties that are ahead of us and as a result we are calling for a meeting of the minds that will include all major stakeholders to ensure that this very vibrant and vital company that has served our Region so well that has lasted for 55 years will last for another 55 years,” Challenger said.
He’d add later, “We have sought to fulfill the dreams of our ancestors to bring the Caribbean together and it is an established fact and we consider this as paramount.”
The airline’s boss believes the regional nature of the airline also stems from the fact that it is owned by three regional governments – Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines – and that the money invested is an investment in “ourselves.”
He also pointed out that the airline is good for bringing people together, but they see moving cargo as a means to develop the region and a “quick money maker.”
“Liat is a Caribbean entity and we’re seeking to promote the linkages that exist in the region,” Challenger said.

Liat is gradually becoming a technological company having recently completed a state of the art Flight Operations Center that runs on a fully automated system that makes the company more efficient and allows for the base to track every aircraft in the fleet. The reservation system has also been computerized. Both these developments should make Liat one of the leading users of technology in the region.

Strengths and threats
Liat’s CEO has named the airline’s regular service, excellent safety record and extensive network as the three key strengths. The latter – extensive network – is also a weakness because if something goes wrong in one destination, there’s a ripple effect across the operation. A recent example of this is the industrial action in Greneda earlier this year that disrupted operations and left passengers stranded for days in some instances.
The airline also continues to be challenged by the global financial crisis, high operational costs like fuel and industrial action. The latter issue is considered a major threat to the airline’s survival and is an area that the management is seeking to address by crafting practical solutions.

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