Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic is to cease flying to the eastern Caribbean island of St Lucia beginning on June 8, 2020.
According to press reports from St Lucia, the decision was taken as a result of the St Lucian government’s refusal to meet Virgin’s demand that St Lucia pay over around EC$20 million in subsidies over a three year period.
With the St Lucia route cancelled, Virgin will instead offer an increase to four flights a week to Antigua from Gatwick airport. It will also offer a direct flight to Havana, Cuba from Heathrow.
Virgin Atlantic has been flying to St Lucia since 1998 and said its partnership with St Lucia has been fruitful and it may reopen that route sometime in the future.
The decision to stop flying to St Lucia will have some impact on the country’s tourism product which last year saw 1.2 million visitors. According to St Lucia’s Minister of Tourism Dominic Fedee, year to date May 2019, St Lucia has recorded an 18 per cent growth from the UK market over the same period in 2018.
On the Virgin Atlantic matter Fedee said: “ It is our strong belief that agreeing to Virgin Atlantic’s demands for a multi-million dollar subsidy, would have opened the door for other airlines to also ask for a subsidy.”
“In fact upon hearing the news that Virgin Atlantic has requested subsidies from four Caribbean governments, namely Grenada, Tobago, Antigua and St Lucia, other airlines have been in talks with respective governments.”
“ St Lucia is a poor Caribbean country with significant levels of poverty, no functioning modern hospital, schools in desperate need of repair and upgrading, a dire lack of social services for the elderly and many other needs among the population. Only in the mind of a criminal, could it be justified that money desperately needed to meet the needs of the people of St Lucia should instead be handed over to a billionaire and his millionaire shareholders.”
An article by Lea White and posted on Barbados Underground read: “ St Lucia is a poor Caribbean country with significant levels of poverty, no functioning modern hospital, schools in desperate need of repair and upgrading, a dire lack of social services for the elderly and many other needs among the population. Only in the mind of a criminal, could it be justified that money desperately needed to meet the needs of the people of St Lucia should instead be handed over to a billionaire and his millionaire shareholders.”
“Virgin Atlantic already charges passengers around 1000 pounds to fly to the Caribbean from London during peak seasons and generally charges passengers starting their journey in the Caribbean up to 80 per cent more than those starting their trip to London. There is no justification for any Caribbean government to give Virgin Atlantic one single penny.
“Virgin Atlantic’s extortion doesn’t apply just to St Lucia. According to Ernest Hilaire of the St Lucia Labour Party, Virgin Atlantic has demanded in total some EC $21 million per year from the following Caribbean countries: Antigua, St Lucia, Grenada and Barbados.
“All people of conscience should condemn Richard Branson and his Virgin Atlantic’s bullying and extortion of Caribbean governments.”
Caribbean tourism writer, Jack Aspinall speaking with CBR said: “ I do recall when St Lucia’s Prime Minister Allen Chastanet was Minister of Tourism both British Airways and American Airlines were paid millions of dollars each in subsidies.
“St Lucia took this decision without consulting major hoteliers and tour operators with businesses on the island and can’t now decide to cry over what this will now do to its tourism industry. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.”