American Airlines is scheduling more flights to the Caribbean this summer than it did during 2019 – a record-breaking tourism year for the region.
Christine Valls, regional vice president for the airline in the Americas and Caribbean, said she expects tourism in the region to be ‘booming’ by the end of this year.
She suggested visitation could surpass previous records.
Valls cautioned that countries like the Cayman Islands, which are currently closed to tourists, will need to spend more on marketing once they open their borders to catch up with destinations that are already welcoming visitors.
She said American Airlines would bring planes back to Cayman as soon as it becomes possible.
The number and scale of routes will depend on demand, but she expects it would take from one to three months from reopening for the flight schedule into Cayman to be back to what it was pre-pandemic.
“We will start and we will see how the demand is going once the country opens,” she said, in response to questions from the Cayman Compass during a Caribbean Tourism Organization online forum.
“We have added Saturday-only service in a lot of the markets just to get the ball rolling. I envisage us doing the same (in Cayman).”
Prior to the pandemic, American Airlines was flying daily to Cayman from Miami, Dallas, and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Valls said American Airlines is already flying to 27 destinations in the Caribbean and is adding new services every week. She said the airline would be running 108 daily flights into the region in May, with more on Saturdays. That eclipses the level of business the airline was doing in 2019.
She attributed that surprising statistic to the vastly reduced number of destination options for American travellers.
With Europe and Asia largely out of the picture for US holidaymakers, Valls said Florida, the Caribbean and Mexico were by far the most popular.
She said people are looking for sun, sea and short-haul flights.
Fear of getting stuck far from home if they test positive for COVID while on vacation is also influencing travel decisions.
The US makes up around 85% of Cayman’s tourism market in a normal year.
If islands like Cayman, which have been closed to tourists, want to benefit from the surge in interest in the region, she suggested they would need to do some intensive marketing work once they open up.
“I think they are going to have to really spend money in advertising that they are open,” she said.
“There is more awareness of the ones that are open (compared) to the ones that are not, so I think it will take longer (for business to come back).”
Nonetheless, she expects the region as a whole to be booming by the end of this year.
“The Caribbean has the traffic, has the passengers has the interest of customers. People want to take short-haul flights to warm destinations where they can be outside.
“By the fourth quarter of this year we will be seeing very strong load factors and traffic to the Caribbean. We are already seeing it in some of the islands.”