American Society of Travel Agents Puerto Rico chapter President Daphne Barbeito is urging the Puerto Rico Tourism Compamy to urgently address the separate decisions by airlines Iberia and British Airways to pull out of the local market.
“We have to have a plan of action to achieve assertive results by April,” she said, referring to when Iberia will stop offering direct routes between Spain and Puerto Rico. “We want the government to convene an industry meeting to work with a subject as important as air access to our island. This change affects everyone’s work and business.”
Last week, Iberia confirmed plans to scale back service to several countries during the first quarter of 2013, when travelers will have to connect in Miami to fly between Puerto Rico and Spain. The changes are the struggling carrier’s latest attempts at improving its finances.
Meanwhile, British Airways is reportedly ending the direct route it established in March 2011, when it launched bi-weekly San Juan-London flights. At the time, Economic Development and Commerce Secretary José Pérez-Riera said the service would inject about $8 million a year into Puerto Rico, with the arrival of some 13,000 passengers over a 12-month period.
“We continue to lose opportunities for economic growth and we’re not being proactive, but rather reactionary,” she said. “It’s a horrible domino effect. The impact will affect all aspects of the tourism industry, and many other products and services.”
Barbeito said the exit of both airlines from the Puerto Rican market is detrimental to the consumer, since the increase in airfare as a result of having to connect in Miami or New York is about $200.
“They should start working on different alternatives to secure such necessary air access. Local efforts should prevent situations, seek alternatives to compensate for this loss,” she said. “That includes rescuing air service we had five years ago, not only in Europe but around the world.”
She mentioned for example the fact that tourism authorities in Uruguay have already found another airline to take Iberia’s direct route to Miami, while “we’ll have one less player here.”
“Puerto Rico offers all of them incentives, but who is truly selling the product? It’s impossible to carry out fragmented, unplanned efforts and expect for routes and demand to grow on their own,” she said. “This without forgetting the global economic scenario. We’re an island and we can’t be at the mercy of what the government believes is correct, without involving the entire industry in their decisions.”