Chairman of the Board of Caribbean Airlines George Nicholas III made it clear earlier this week that his company intends to honour Air Jamaica and sees tremendous value in the brand. He went on to scotch speculation that Caribbean Airlines was no longer interested in acquiring Air Jamaica and that the initial deal would have to be re-evaluated.
Speaking with Caribbean Business Report from the Pegasus Hotel on Wednesday Nicholas said: "We believe there is a lot of equity in the name Air Jamaica and hundreds of millions of dollars has been spent marketing it globally and we are of the view that there is a return on that effort. We intend to honour the name Air Jamaica and get the best out of Air Jamaica. We have a clear plan what we want to do with the airline. Already we have acquired new Boeing 737-800s for it and on Friday you will see the new livery. The Love Bird still flys high and this summer we intend to return to London, offering three to four flights a week to Heathrow with the Boeing 777. So you see, we won't be flying just small jets, we will also be flying big jets as well.
Caribbean Airlines is pursuing a relationship with Star Alliance in an effort to support Jamaican hoteliers. Nicholas sees it as vitally important that Caribbean Airlines becomes an option for travel agencies and wholesalers who are non Virgin and British Airways aligned. To that end he is calling on the assistance of Jamaican hoteliers. In this regard he says the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) and Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) has been very kind to Caribbean Airlines.
The chairman of Caribbean Airlines said that Trinidad & Tobago's carrier had assembled personal with extensive aviation and travel trade experience. The strategy is as follows: The plan is to use Air Jamaica as the tourist airline for the Caribbean. It will be a pure tourist vehicle effectively used to facilitate the region's largest industry. Caribbean Airlines will be aimed at the Diaspora and business executives.
"Air Jamaica can go where Caribbean Airlines cannot go. Air Jamaica has already developed Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, London, Los Angeles and Houston. These are places that would be brand new to Caribbean Airlines. We want Air Jamaica to be the airline for non-aligned hoteliers," declared the Caribbean Airlines boss.
Nicholas has almost two decades of experience in the tourism sector having held several executive positions at hotels and resorts both in Trinidad and regionally. He points out that Trinidad is very blessed to have a petroleum industry which produces something like 70 per cent of its GDP. In the other islands that is not the case. Many of the islands are suffering this winter as a result of poor tourism sales. Despite this, Jamaica and Barbados are doing very well. Caribbean Airlines can therefore help with the multiplier effect of the tourism dollar versus the manufacturing dollar and the services sector dollar. Nicholas and his team has been working out the airline's scheduling, pricing and approach.
" As far as Air Jamaica, is concerned, the way I see it is, what was yesterday was yesterday;what is today is today and what is tomorrow is tomorrow. We would like to have a hub in Montego Bay and we would like to have our maintenance facility there also. I don't want us to give up Montego Bay to those value jets who just zip in and out and have no relationship or loyalty to Jamaica. We do believe that Air Jamaica that owns 16.5 per cent of Caribbean Airlines will do well with its stake in the airline. Caribbean Airlines will end 2010 with about US$500 million in assets. That's not bad considering Air Jamaica was continuing to lose quite a bit of money. But I must say that we cannot make the airline successful without the support of the Jamaican people. Jamaican's must have a genuine love for their airline. I don't believe that other carriers are better at global aviation than we are," explained Nicholas who was educated in Canada and the U.S. and holds a Bachelors of Arts in Business Administration from the University of Western Ontario, and received extensive executive training in hospitality, strategic negotiation, mergers and acquisitions from Cornell and Harvard universities. He is also fluent in French.
He underscored the importance of the region having a viable regional carrier that Caribbean people could be proud of. It's no good having little ineffective carriers that are unable to comprehensively service the region. Also many of the value jets will pull out of many of the islands if they cannot make a handsome return because they have no commitment or affinity to these countries.
"It is important to have someone stay with you through the good times and through the bad times and an indigenous carrier can do that. One of the things we would like is to have efficient economies of scale for destinations that are not necessarily money spinners but we can make enough money off other routes to support them. We have done so already with some destinations that people thought we might have canceled. For example it is important that Jamaica has a better service to the Bahamas. We are hoping to send an ATR there within the next quarter. We are very interested in the Kingston to Havana route. With the bigger jets we want to see some other routes reopened. We have just purchased 9 ATRs which will have in-flight entertainment systems. It is not just British Airways and Virgin who can treat a customer well. We will raise the customer service bar and we will be reintroducing champagne flights, "said Nicholas.