Thursday 26th July, 2007

 

Big spenders fly out

Hotspots: New York, Miami, Atlanta, Curacao, Aruba

 
 
 
 
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BY SANDRA CHOUTHI

Flights are booked.

The special fares are gone.

Despite the Tourism Development Company’s (TDC) campaign to convince Trinidadians to vacation at home and appreciate all that is local—from the hotels to the cuisine—a majority of them are flying out this holiday period.

Wayne Rodriguez, president of the T&T Travel Agents’ Association, said most flights to big city destinations, whether it is to London, New York or Toronto, are fully booked.

“The rush now is for special fares with American Airlines to Miami, Los Angeles and Boston. A lot of people are taking advantage of those low fares,” Rodriguez said.

He reported an increase in the volume of people travelling, with a steady flow in bookings from January to July.

“Curacao is a good destination this year,” Rodriguez said. “Aruba has been picking up within the last two to three weeks.”

Farouk Khan, who runs a travel service in San Fernando, said apart from Trinidadians heading to North America, there’s a lot of people heading to Barbados for Cropover.

Seats are limited, though, mainly due to the merger between Liat and Caribbean Star.

“In most cases, only first class is available. You may get the odd seat in economy,” Khan said.

First class is pricey:

n New York will cost you $10,000.

n Miami, $8,000

n Toronto, between $14,000 and $15,000

n And London is a whopping $22,000

Khan said this time of year is traditionally very busy when it comes to Trinidadians and travel, but this year seems to be unusually so.

“It could be because of the reduction in flights departing Trinidad for the summer,” Khan said, referring to Caribbean Airlines’ schedule.

For instance, whereas BWIA, the defunct airline, used to make two flights a day to Miami, its successor, Caribbean Airlines, makes one trip.

Most of Caribbean Airlines’ special rates to North America, which ran from May to September, have been snapped up with few seats remaining.

The ones still available are up to $1,000 more expensive than the specials offered, Khan said.

Khan explained the airlines’ pricing strategy.

While airlines like their prices to stay competitive, there might be as many as five different prices for an economy seat to any destination with no difference in service.

“They reduce a certain amount of seats at lower costs so it balances off the average price per seat.

“Sometimes we tell people you are paying $6,000, but this is not the cheapest price. The cheaper seat is sold out,” Khan said.

In instances where travellers find the established airlines’ prices too steep, they resort to charters, whose prices can be as much as $500 cheaper.

Khan, the traveller, has visited London several times as that’s where his son is studying.

The youth in Khan likes Orlando.

“When I go there, I feel like a kid again.”

He enjoys Wet ‘n’ Wild, Epcot at Walt Disney World, Sea World.

‘It’s one part of the world you can go and forget your troubles,” Khan said.

Anand Mathura, reservation agent at Fantasy Travel in Princes Town, said even though a last-minute booking for an economy seat to London is $12,000 on British Airways, Trinidadians are forking out the cash.

If one had booked a London seat around March/April, it would have cost about $7,000.

Mathura said the one who paid $12,000 sometimes ended up sitting next to a passenger who paid only $7,000.

“The person who fixed their holiday, who planned their dates and booked early, gets the cheap seats.”

Trinidadians are also opting to holiday in Curacao via Suriname Airways and Primaris Airlines.

You might wonder how people affording these expensive trips?

Mathura said some of the travelling public from Princes Town are contractors, sell clothing, jewelry or own groceries.

Some take loans.

Mathura said Republic Bank offered to pay his employer $50 for each customer who was sent to them for a loan that was approved.

“People are sceptical about taking loans. I asked a lot of people, but they had their own money to pay for their tickets,” Mathura said.

He said some Trinidadians prefer to go to Miami instead of a Caribbean destination because the cost is sometimes the same.

Some Trinidadians are crossing water this holiday period, while not going very far afield.

Many still enjoy good old Tobago.

For the owners of guest houses and apartments in pristine Tobago, Trinidadians account for about 60 per cent of their business.

Rene Seepersadsingh, president of the Tobago Hotel Association, said a fair amount of Trinis go to Tobago, especially with the addition of the new fast ferry, T&T Spirit, on the seabridge.

He said the issue of seating availability is one of supply and demand.

“There is only so much space. For the most part, the airbridge is reliable. There are no major complaints,” Seepersadsingh said.

He said those who opt for a more exotic locale do so because they have greater spending power.

“Trinis take Tobago for granted, something they can always do,” he said.

What the airlines say:

Atlanta and New York preferred destinations

All of Delta Airlines’ flights for July were booked.

The first destination of choice for hot-footed Trinidadians was Atlanta with New York being second.

Heather St Louis, account manager at Delta, said Trinidadians are travelling out of the Caribbean because some hotel rates in North America are more competitive than regional fares.

St Louis, who has worked with BWIA, Pan American Airways (Pan Am) and United Airlines, said meals are cheaper in North America and there are more interesting places to visit.

She spoke of Atlanta’s CNN Centre, the Martin Luther King Centre, Coca Cola’s head office, which has been refurbished, and the Atlanta Aquarium which are major tourist attractions. Those in the retail trade go to the wholesale mall, Premium Outlet in Atlanta.

“Atlanta has more than 20,000 Trinidadians,” said St Louis, who travels monthly to Panama and Atlanta for meetings.

American Airlines has special rates for its destinations from September 4 to November 15, but the last day to pay for them was July 23.

Reservation agent Cordelia St George said the popular destinations are Miami, New York and Atlanta in the US.

She said 60 per cent of the airline’s Trinidadian travellers go to New York, with 30 per cent opting for Miami and the remaining ten per cent heading to Atlanta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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