Island Air is rolling out the red carpet — for everyone.
The fixed-base operator that handles general aviation needs in the Cayman Islands is extending its meet and greet service to anyone flying in or out of Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman.
Long a signature luxury for VIPs and corporate executives arriving by private and charter aircraft, the curbside service is now intended to whisk members of the general public through the main passenger terminal as hassle-free as possible after arriving by commercial airliner.
Fast-track processing through security, priority access to clear immigration and customs, and assistance with baggage claim, as well as prearranged ground transportation are all part of the concierge package.
Marcus Cumber, owner and managing director of Island Air, said the firm also will offer similar services on departure day, including premium boarding and access to Cayman Airways’ private lounge.
Founded in 1987, Island Air is the operator that handles the fuelling, hangaring, tie-down and parking and aircraft rental and maintenance needs of the private planes in the Cayman Islands. Last year, the firm’s meet and greet service coordinated the visit of tennis superstar Venus Williams when she came to Grand Cayman for a book signing at Books & Books in Camana Bay.
“It’s a service that we’re already providing for the corporate and private jets, and we’re just transposing that model to a commercial jet,” Mr. Cumber said. “It’s done in all the major airports and we felt it’s a service that should be provided in Cayman.”
Mr. Cumber said in addition to manoeuvring the necessary regulatory checkpoints in the airport, Island Air also assists its meet and greet clients with arranging limousine or taxi service and hotel accommodations, along with extracurriculars such as golf outings, dining options and travel excursions.
The introductory rate for the concierge service is US$150 for up to five people. Group rates also are available.
“The Cayman Islands are one of the richest countries in the world,” Mr. Cumber said. “This is the kind of ambiance and first impression you want to give.”
Michele Fiorenza, the Caribbean market manager in Florida for the travel agency website BookIt.com, used the Island Air meet and greet service in May when she was visiting the country during the Cayman Island Tourism Exchange. Ms Fiorenza used the service again in July when she returned on holiday.
“I think the service is well worth the cost,” she said. “It saves tremendous amounts of time and headache.”
Edward Jerrard, safety director for Island Air and a university aviation professor and industry consultant, said the time management savings lie in the firm’s in house connections and industry know-how established during a long working relationship with the Cayman Islands regulatory authorities, including airport operators.
Mr. Jerrard said the service to usher passengers through the terminal is especially valuable on Saturdays when Owen Roberts International Airport is filled with both arrivals and departures, and the facility is at its most congested.
“You have to go through the appropriate stations, there is no way around that,” he said. “But we have access that the general public does not have and we can move people through faster.
“It doesn’t matter if this is a person here on business, or a person here on holiday or a returning resident,” Mr. Jerrard said. “This service is here for everybody.”
Mr. Cumber acknowledged his biggest challenges to growing the operation lie in his marketing efforts reaching the lush customer base in the United States, which accounts for roughly 80 per cent of the air arrivals coming to the Cayman Islands each year. General global economic conditions also are of concern.
He said he will focus on developing networking arrangements through local hotels and resorts as well as the offshore financial industry, hoping to partner in business relationships that best saturate the potential client pool. Down the road, there may also be opportunities to coordinate services and ticket packages through the airlines, especially the national flag carrier Cayman Airways.
“How do we get this in the hands of Joe public in the States?,” Mr. Cumber said. “Those are the boxes we’re trying to tick off. Really I think the success we’re going to have is working with the hotels. There are different ways we can skin the cat, but I think that working through the hotels is where it is at.”
Annual stay-over air arrivals to the Cayman Islands were at an all-time high of more than 400,000 in 1998, but the 11 September terrorist attacks, Hurricane Ivan and the global economic recession have seen those numbers diminish considerably since the turn of the century, according to the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism.
Those numbers have rebounded somewhat in recent years and in 2010 the government reported stay-over air arrivals totalling more than 288,000. According to the government’s Economics and Statistics Office, the first quarter of 2011 witnessed a 6.8 per cent growth in the number of air arrivals compared with the same period one year ago.
“Fewer people are going through the airport these days and we’re not back to where we were,” Mr. Cumber said. “This year is certainly better than last year. The hope is that (the venture) is successful because then we will hire more Caymanians, young Caymanians to be there to meet and greet people.”