LIAT Airlines is killing tourism investment throughout the Eastern Caribbean

Liat Airline

The Caribbean Needs Radical Change at LIAT

by Robert MacLellan

During the last week of August our hospitality consultancy organised a visit by potential developers to the Eastern Caribbean. The participants on the trip – from UK, China, Trinidad and St Lucia – all experienced significant delays or cancellations on LIAT flights. I have travelled regularly with LIAT throughout the Caribbean for over sixteen years but recent events represent a new low point.

“The challenge of convincing investors to consider tourism developments in those islands, which are served primarily by LIAT, is now onerous indeed.”

Gregor Nassief’s recent open letter to the LIAT board of directors has already catalogued the airline’s worst ever performance over the last three months and called for management heads to roll. This solicited a response from LIAT’s chairman, Jean Holder, which addressed virtually none of Mr Nassief’s points and seemed only to confirm the level of delusion in the highest ranks of LIAT management. Having received a worthless and self serving response, Mr Nassief has since called directly for Dr Holder’s resignation.

In his initial response to Mr Nassief, Dr Holder refers to the “track record” of the current company leadership and so I felt the need to clarify the true meaning of those words. One dictionary provides the following definition: “Track record: 1.The best recorded performance in a particular track-and-field event at a particular track. 2. The past achievements or performance of a person, organisation or product.” The definitions seem to suggest some degree of excellence, a million miles away from the performance delivered to its customers by LIAT!

Patience with LIAT is now at an end and senior figures in the hotel and tourism industry across the region are quite legitimately questioning Dr Holder’s strategic and financial track record as Chairman of LIAT since 2004. They are equally entitled to evaluate Captain Ian Brunton’s track record, firstly, as former CEO of Caribbean Airlines and his departure from that company and, since 1st August 2012, his track record as CEO of LIAT. Captain Brunton has been responsible since that date for forward planning and day-to-day operation of the airline. Therefore, he must have been closely involved in the recent scheduling of LIAT’s aircraft acquisitions / disposals programme and the associated crew training – the apparent root causes of the recent appalling performance.

Yet Dr Holder’s response to complaints asks us to believe that the current LIAT senior management team is the best available, with no possible alternatives. No criticism of Caribbean management, as such, is implied here – the performance of a previous British CEO at LIAT, also hired by Dr Holder, proved to be very unsuccessful and short-lived only a few years ago.

Furthermore, LIAT’s PR and marketing efforts are generally recognised as being amateurish and without ready international appeal. Therefore, the airline is likely to continue serving primarily an indigenous regional market. However, inter island tourism has decreased by approximately 60% over the last seven years – due largely to ever increasing LIAT fares, which are arguably the consequence of minimal competition for LIAT in the region. A value for money proposition and effective marketing are paramount now in attempting to rebuild inter island air travel volume and, with it, levels of inter island tourism.

While LIAT’s market undoubtedly presents specific challenges, including high airport taxes, much might be learned from the business models of cost efficient airlines around the world, such as Jet Blue, South West Airlines, Easy Jet and Ryan Air. Without an increase in volume of passengers, it is difficult to see the financial logic for LIAT’s new larger expensive aircraft flying the airline’s current thin routes with high-cycle / short flight operations.

The very urgent need for fresh strategic thinking and increased professionalism in management systems at LIAT is self evident. As many governments in the region are clearly reticent about making equity investments in LIAT, is that not further proof that they too have little confidence in LIAT’s business strategy and management? There appears little chance of private sector investors ever backing the current regime based on their existing “track record”.

Robert MacLellan

Robert MacLellan is Managing Director of MacLellan & Associates, the region’s leading hospitality consultancy since 1997. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality, a Member of the International Society of Hospitality Consultants and has a Masters Degree in International Hotel Management. This is his eighth article published in Barbados Free Press.

7 Comments

Filed under Aviation, Barbados, Barbados Tourism

7 responses to “LIAT Airlines is killing tourism investment throughout the Eastern Caribbean

  1. PLANTATION DEEDS FROM 1926-2013 AND SEE MASSIVE FRAUD ,LAND TAX BILLS AND NO DEEDS

    We need RED JET, Liat is a Bitch , They just dont care one shit, ,

  2. Party Animal

    Carib Express failed because of Politics, Red Jet failed because of Politics, no one could get me to invest a cent in any Caribbean Airline. LIAT failed because of Politics

  3. Gandersonm@yahoo.com

    Red Jet was a planned scam on local Carribean governments from the get go. Any one with Aviation or Airline experience will tell you Red Jet would crash and burn even before its flight.

  4. Rastaman

    Red Jet made some marketing and pricing mistakes but the concept was workable.What we really need is the ferry.

  5. Read

    Lets face it. Low cost carriers are really not low cost. Do the checks for your self and if you compare routes and pricing with legacy carriers they all come back to pretty much the same price. Also in the Caribbean there will never be anything such as a low cost carrier as every carrier has to land at the same airports and pay the same fees etc. J Holder because of his inexperience in aviation has lead that airline down a lot of bad decisions over the past years – some that have and continue to plague the airline with problems and lack of sales even today.

  6. Fly-by-Night

    The best way to become a millionaire in the airline business? Start as a BILLIONAIRE and wait…And let Caribbean politicians have a hand in the operation.

  7. Anonymous

    What dumb a.. would have a conference of that type in the Caribbean that time of the year. Dont blame LIAT blame your dumb self.