Cayman Airways is forging links with European airlines in order to capitalise on the growth market of European stayover tourists visiting the Cayman Islands.
In fact, a special Cayman Airways representative is now based in the UK in order to work on these enhanced airline relationships and work alongside the Department of Tourism’s office in London.
This ties in with the Cayman Islands’ intent to diversify visitor source markets, and concentrate more on the European market, which is seeing increases in arrivals over last year.
Cayman Airways has just launched straight-through check-in and interline e-ticketing with British Airways, with the aim to have similar agreements in place with Virgin Airlines, Lufthansa and Air France by summer of next year.
Using Tampa, Miami Kingston, and even JFK and Orlando as the connect points, such agreements will make travelling to the Cayman Islands easier for passengers, explained VP Commercial John Wrightington.
‘But we have no intention of thinking about ever flying to Europe,’ he asserted. ‘That’s not on the cards.’
This whole initiative was driven by Don McDougall, the Regional Manager Europe for the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, based in London.
‘Don came over about four months ago during the CITE conference and we had a meeting about how Cayman Airways could assist in marketing in the UK and Ireland specifically, and on a more global basis.’
The vast majority of the traffic from Europe is coming here from the UK and Ireland.
Mr. Wrightington noted that CAL’s interline agreements in Europe, such as with Lufthansa, had lapsed. Without an interline agreement it’s very difficult to transfer traffic, and sometimes baggage can’t be transferred from one carrier to another, and a through itinerary can’t be priced, he explained.
For example, if someone was flying from Cayman to Miami to Frankfurt, without the through pricing agreement, it would have to be priced as two separate itineraries, making it a much more expensive trip.
‘So what happened was we lost a significant proportion of our European traffic,’ Mr. Wrightington said.
Cayman Airways is now trying to reinstate those interline agreements and work closer with those carriers. They are taking it one step further besides just ticketing, baggage and pricing agreements in terms of having interline e-ticketing so that a passenger can be ticketed through to Prague or to Frankfurt, in a seamless check in.
Lynne Morris, the CAL representative now stationed in the UK specifically working for Cayman Airways, will work alongside Mr. McDougall in terms of generating more traffic from Ireland and the UK. She will also represent CAL with European airlines that go through Miami, Tampa, or Kingston – the three most logical connect points to Europe, Mr. Wrightington said.
It turned out that CAL was the 500th airline to sign in with interline e-ticketing with British Airways.
‘So that tells you how far behind we were,’ he said.
There is also a vested interest in working with BA to sell the Sister Islands, said Mr. Wrightington, through connecting passengers on the direct BA flight from London to the Sister Islands on the last Cayman Airways flight in the evening.
‘So if we can make that experience easier then it’s easier for the wholesalers and the agencies in the UK and Ireland to sell this service,’ he said.
‘And also we’re able to price it competitively so it’s just as competitive to fly to Cayman Brac as it is to fly to Roatan or Belize if they’re a diver.’
But with very little additional capacity available on British Airways’ direct route, the more traffic from London that Cayman Airways can start connecting in Miami and especially through Kingston – where there is more capacity on BA flights – the more it opens Cayman to the UK market, he said.
At World Travel Market in London in November, CAL will team up with the DoT’s booth with Ms Morris as CAL’s representative through the whole process, working with wholesalers and the high-end travel agencies that cater to Cayman’s target market.
Another interesting point is that it is becoming progressively cheaper to come here as a destination from Europe and the UK because of the lower value of the U.S. dollar – and hence the C.I. dollar – in relation to the euro and the pound sterling.
Explaining why CAL is developing a closer relationship with European airlines, Mr. Wrightington said, ‘From our point of view, we have to do this because the currency fluctuation makes this just a business necessity.’
As the national airline it only makes sense to reinforce the marketing DoT is doing in Europe also, he added.
Ms Morris is also going to work with Virgin and BA in terms of having them offer improved baggage allowances so divers will be able to come with that third bag, and CAL is changing its policies to allow the dive market to have a baggage allowance waiver, also being done in the US.
Ms Morris will also do some speciality marketing in the UK, such as in the romance market, and work on incentives for flying with BA connecting in Miami to Cayman for the wedding market.
Another area that Ms Morris is to focus on is dual destination vacations, which are being seen a lot more.
‘So it could be Jamaica and Cayman; it could be Cuba and Cayman; it could be South Florida, eventually whatever destination we serve out of here we can start creating multi-destination scenarios,’ Mr. Wrightington said. ‘Most people want to go to Cuba, and that almost opens up [the question] – in the long-term – whether we want to fly to Varadero or Santiago or some of the other destinations in Cuba.’
In fact, the Havana route is proving so popular that in November the frequency is going up to four times a week, with a possibility of a fifth frequency to come in February or March. ‘And ironically our flight to Havana connects right to Virgin, so that could be another connect-point for Europe, especially for those who can’t get visas into the U.S. for in-transit visas,’ he said.
‘The more Havana connections and Kingston connections, the more likely we are to get some of the market that can’t go over Miami.’
In continental Europe, Air France is a major objective for agreements, because it flies Miami to Paris non-stop.
‘Air France’s flight from Miami to Charles de Gaulle connects to 38 cities in Europe within an hour and a half. They’ve got this really tight operation and they also have a really strong marketing programme within continental Europe.’