BA hopeful strikes are over

British Airways cabin crew are
voting on an offer that could resolve the 17-month dispute.

There have been a series of strikes
called by the Unite union this year that have cost the airline an estimated
CI$189 million in revenue and led to a 1.7 per cent drop in June’s passenger
numbers compared to the same month in 2009. The original dispute was centred
around staffing and pay levels with the union also subsequently unhappy with
the withdrawal of travel perks from some of its members who joined the first
round of strikes in March.

Julie Kyse, BA’s vice-president,
commercial Latin America and Caribbean, noted that the airline had said it was
a final offer.

“I think it’s a good, reasonable
offer. My understanding is that they’re going out with a mail ballot over a
two-week period. It hasn’t gone out yet. I don’t think there’s a great will to
strike amongst the vast majority of the crew, and I hope that they will vote
accordingly and we can put this whole thing behind us.”

 Cayman was affected widely by the walkouts,
with flights cancelled during May and June.

“I think it’s important to
understand why Cayman was disproportionately disadvantaged during that strike,”
said Ms Kyse. “It’s not about any kind of neglect of Cayman or feeling that
Cayman is not important to us, because it is very important to us.

“But it’s a 767 service which is
fairly crew-inefficient as it is. There are fewer passengers with approximately
the same crew that you need on a larger aircraft, and because of the service
[via Nassau] it requires the crew to have an overnight slip, so it actually
requires almost double the crew of a regular flight.

“It’s really important that people
in Cayman know that it is an important destination,” she added.

The airline held its quarterly
management meeting on Cayman, where all the Caribbean managers met with and
thanked the company’s local travel industry partners who had taken care of
customer rebooking and servicing during the strike, she said.

Tax increases

An issue facing the airline
industry in the Caribbean is the controversial Air Passenger Tax, introduced by
the UK government in 2009 and due to increase further in November.

“We are not crazy about it. I think
that it inhibits business into and out of the UK and really unfairly places a
lot of tax burden on travellers that are actually generating income for the
country. We are not big fans of extra taxation on travellers because it really
does diminish the value of the tourism,” said Ms Kyse. “Tourism is critical in
the islands. It’s also very important in the UK, and it’s frustrating when
government measures are put in place which inhibit that.”

She added that it was challenging
because governments in the Caribbean also levy taxes, so travellers feel like
they have been doubly hit by charges.

“It’s something that people don’t
feel they’re getting value for. They don’t mind when they come to Cayman,
spending money on the hotel and excursions; because they feel they’re getting
something. But the tax money – it just doesn’t feel like it’s something you
want to spend [so much on]. It just adds onto the cost of the vacation.”

The issue is exacerbated because
the Caribbean is in the highest tax band.

Driving growth

Inbound tourism was an area for
growth for the airline over the past year, said Ms Kruse, who noted that the
traditional links between Cayman and the UK were based both on business and
leisure travel. It is part of the airline’s policy to encourage Caribbean
tourists to visit London and Europe.

The airline is also focused on
encouraging traffic between Grand Cayman and Nassau. Commercial manager for the
Caribbean, Diane Corrie, said that twin island holidays would continue to be
promoted through inter-island, regional flights.

“People [could] come over to Cayman
for a week, go over to Nassau with BA, not necessarily for a week but for a
couple of days. And it’s different, yes it’s Caribbean, yes it’s
English-speaking, but if you go to Nassau it’s a different kind of vibe to
Cayman. You know, you go to [Bahamian resort and hotel complex] Atlantis, you
may want to go to a casino, and here it’s more laid-back.

“It’s an opportunity for business
because people go for business, they want a holiday, and we also want to kind
of encourage Bahamian residents to come here. You might not come for a week,
but you come for a nice long weekend, especially when there’s special events
taking place here,” said Ms Corrie. “It’s a bit of Las Vegas in the Caribbean.”

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Hopes rise of BA peace.
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