In one of his first public engagements since being appointed Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, Dr Kevin Greenidge shone a spotlight on the bothersome question of regional air travel.
The occasion was the Central Bank’s public engagement discussion known as the Caribbean Economic Forum, staged on Wednesday and broadcast across the region and through the Central Bank’s various social channels.
The programme seeks to draw attention to major topical socio-economic issues and to raise the level of public awareness among Caribbean people of the matters that impact their daily lives.
The Governor was joined by regional business executive Gervase Warner, who heads the Massy Group and is chair of the CARICOM Private Sector Organisation, as well as Geneva Oliverie of the Barbados-based Caribbean Policy Development Centre.
Dr Greenidge, who now has the weight of the country’s lead financial institution on his shoulders, operates from the advantage of being one of the leading advisers to the administration during a very crucial period. He has had a bird’s eye view of all the critical areas of the economy and their interrelatedness. And so, if Governor Greenidge has identified the matter of intra-regional travel as a priority area requiring immediate attention, then we have no choice but to agree with him.
As he described it, intraregional travel “is something we cannot ignore much longer”. Yes Governor, we should never ignore the value of having a reliable, effective, reasonably priced, accessible, and fast form of travel for business, leisure and the movement of goods.
According to Dr Greenidge’s presentation at the forum, “When you look at the numbers, that’s one area in which we have been declining over time; less travelling among ourselves.”
He added: “I agree that there is an urgent need to find a solution to the intra regional travel [challenge] and what I think we need to do is put our heads together and become creative from possibilities of express ferries along the coastlines, [and] maybe sub-regional travel.”
While we agree with the Governor that all options should be assessed, most Caribbean people want to travel by air because it is faster and more convenient. People in the region have become more sophisticated. Their needs and expectations have risen, and they know what they want.
This brings us around to the question of LIAT, its future, and whether we should dismiss the idea that the Antigua-based carrier will ever be offering the extensive destination range for which it had become known.
Barbadian tax payers have never been given a full accounting of how much money this country has pumped into the airline over its life as the lead shareholder. Even at this stage it is not too late.
Despite all the complaints about delays and other frustrations, LIAT was better than what we have now.
Having put forward a plan to clean up the unfinished business of providing severance payments to the Barbadian former employees of LIAT, the public deserves to know how Government plans to address air travel in the region.
There is no doubt that the island has lost significant business as a result of the massive falloff in regional travellers, directly linked to the troubles faced by LIAT.
The Central Bank Governor outlined the regional travel woes represent a problem that required an “urgent” solution.
What should be recognised is the region has been battling this matter for way too long.
A 2015 study commissioned by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) on regional air travel was presented at the Annual Board of Governors Meeting made some recommendations.
The Barbados-headquartered regional institution called for a major rethink of the regional airline industry and for the setting up of a CARICOM Airlines Association to identify opportunities to reduce costs, create greater synergies and earn more revenue.
The CDB also called for the creation of an Air Transport Reform Authority to address longer-term strategic issues at the regional level. The overarching recommendation was also for greater co-operation among regional governments and carriers and with other foreign airlines and a harmonising of administrative and regulatory policy and operations.
The matter of regional travel is one that requires commitment and financing. We are not convinced that regional governments are in a position to offer either in the way Caribbean people demand.