LIAT strike leaves St Lucia hoteliers counting their losses

CASTRIES, St.Lucia, Thursday November 14, 2013, CMC – Several small to medium hotel properties here are counting their losses following a strike by LIAT pilots last week.

Executive Vice President of the St.Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association (SLHTA) Noorani Azeez said in addition to hundreds of passengers across the region, hoteliers were also affected.

“For quite a few of our small properties, the disruption really hit the bottom line in a very hard way,” he said.

Azeez said preliminary estimates from some of the small properties which are members of the SLHTA indicate that properties suffered well over EC$200,000 (EC$1=37UScents) in leisure bookings in addition to business type conferences and bookings.

“In some instances properties have reported that conferences scheduled for the week of the strike have now been rescheduled for early in the New Year,” Azeez said.

He said having lost the opportunity now, it has become necessary to sell rooms and conferences at lower rates and that also amounts in losses in revenue.

The SLHTA official said with tourism being substantial market for the region LIAT needs to shape up and the time has come to source the services of a new regional carrier.

“It is clear that experiences with the regional carriers in the last few months have really pointed us in a direction that many of us were not comfortable going previously. But the time is again upon us to explore other options more seriously and strategically and start looking at things from a business standpoint. Certainly this level of inappropriate service will not be accepted from any local establishment and that standard is certainly not a safe one for a regional entity,” Azeez noted.

One of the hardest hit properties – the Bay Gardens Hotels in Rodney Bay lost of hundred of thousands of dollars during the disruption of airline services.

General Manger of the Bay Gardens Beach Resort Berthia Parle said the LIAT crisis has taken its toll on the tourism sector, noting that the pilot strike has cost the three Bay Gardens properties huge sums at a time when the sector was looking to make up for a not so busy summer.

Parle said that in good faith the hotel could not charge clients cancellation fees as it was through no fault of theirs that they could not get to St.Lucia.

“It had a major impact on us because we lost a major conference group that was scheduled to come to the island for four days and it actually happened at the same time the strike was on.

So we are talking about some 80 rooms between the three properties, with breakfast, lunch and dinner plus accommodation for the four day duration of the conference, this totaled between EC$150,00 to $200,000,” she added.

“In addition, there was a second conference of 30 persons, most of whom could not get here, so the conference went ahead with some 12 persons, so here again losses were incurred,” Parle said.

Regarding St.Lucia’s decision to guarantee a US$3 million loan on behalf of the airline, Parle said that money alone will not fix LIAT’s problems.

She said major emphasis must be placed on re-configuring its management operations, because even when the strikes and crises end and money is injected, LIAT’s problems persist.

“They need to show us that they are willing do what it takes in Antigua in particular in this recessionary period to trim the fat and begin to operate efficiently, to restructure and what ever is necessary to keep the airline profitable,” she added.

“If this is not done, then year after year we will keep investing in LIAT with no change what so ever in its structure and their operations, so while St.Lucia is giving a guarantee, the Prime Minister also needs to get from LIAT a guarantee that the required changes LIAT one red cent,” Parle said.


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