“When we are united, we as a Caribbean are unstoppable,” said Kenneth Bryan, the Cayman Islands Minister of Tourism and the newly elected chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), during the keynote speech at today’s IATA Caribbean Aviation Day, taking place in the Cayman Islands.

During his speech, Bryan spoke of the interdependence of tourism and aviation, noting that airlift drives tourism, and vice-versa. “If one breaks down, there is an impact on the other,” he said. “Airlift is the oxygen in our tourism; without airlift, travelers have no way of getting to our beautiful islands.”

And no region in the world understands that better than the Caribbean. As Peter Cerda, IATA’s regional v.p., The Americas, said this morning during the Caribbean Aviation Day’s opening remarks,No one in this room really needs a reminder on the interdependencies between aviation and tourism as our industry contributed 13.9 percent to GDP and 15.2 percent of all jobs in Caribbean pre-pandemic in 2019. In fact, according to the WTTC, eight out of the 10 most tourism-dependent countries globally in 2019 were in the Caribbean region.”

The Caribbean seems to be on a fast-track to full recovery, with the Caribbean reaching 81 percent of pre-crisis levels for passenger air traffic in June. “The good news,” noted Cerda, “is that people want to travel. This has been made clear by the ongoing recovery.” But he was quick to point out that “while international connectivity between the Caribbean, the Americas and Europe has largely been restored, traveling within the region remains a challenge. We have only reached 60 percent of intra-Caribbean passenger levels compared to 2019 and in many cases the only way to reach other islands is via Miami or Panama.”

“In fact,” noted Minister Bryan, “traveling to neighboring destinations sometimes seems like a long-haul journey.”

And that was one of the main focuses of today’s IATA Caribbean Aviation Day and yesterday’s CTO Business Meetings, during which ministers and CEOS and directors of tourism held meetings that they hope will lead to more collaboration. The goal is for the many destinations that call the Caribbean region home to come together and create a more seamless travel experience, and that includes improving technology, investing in infrastructure, providing convenience for the passengers, and truly understanding and analyzing the challenges, especially as they relate to aviation.

“When they fly, today’s travelers are also looking for a seamless/simplified experience,” said Cerda. “While physical infrastructure does not appear to be a limiting factor for connectivity in the region, creating the right conditions to generate the demand that will support a sustainable increase in air connectivity in the region is still a challenge.

“Outdated, redundant and paper-based administrative and regulatory processes continue to negatively impact airline operations,” he continued.

Another challenge that was addressed during today’s event, which consisted of lively fireside chats, in-depth panel discussions and roundtables, was the issue of the high cost of doing business in the region for aviation. Cerda noted that the taxes and fees added to airline tickets “substantially increase the cost of air travel to and from the region. By way of comparison, at a global level taxes and charges make up approximately 15 percent of the ticket price and in the Caribbean the average is double this at approximately 30 percent of the ticket price.

“Today’s passengers have a choice and as the total cost of vacations increasingly become a decision-making factor, governments must be prudent and not price themselves out of the market. For example, a flight for an 8-day vacation from London to Bridgetown in October is around $800. But a flight from London to Dubai for the exact same time frame is around $600. For a family of four, that is a $800 difference just for the flights. Caribbean destinations are running the risk of pricing themselves out of the global travel and tourism market where passengers have more choice than ever before.”

And as the pent-up demand for travel continues, and with airlift being key to sustaining that demand, Cerda noted, “We need more than just good sounding words and declarations, we need action.”

With Minister Bryan adding, “As the industry moves through the distinct phases of recovery, reconnection and revival, the need to address the challenges and opportunities that existed prior to the pandemic; as well as with the new ones that may have emerged, is now even more acute.”