Tourism Minister, Robert Tonge

Tourism Minister, Robert Tonge

Tourism officials are still working to improve air access to Dominica, after the passage of Tropical Storm Erika caused a “significant reduction” in the number of passengers arriving by air, Tourism Minister, Robert Tonge, has reported.

Tonge hinted in a radio interview earlier this week that regional airline, LIAT, was responsible for the decrease.

“We’ve had many challenges with regards to air access After Tropical Storm Erika, unfortunately, I’m not sure if LIAT took that as an opportunity, but at that point they downgraded the number of aircraft that they had… and obviously, everybody throughout the Caribbean suffered because of that,” he said. “Prior to Tropical Storm Erika, we had 76 flights coming into Dominica, which came up 6,031 seats, and then, after Tropical Storm Erika, as of March 2016… instead of 76 flights, we only had 46 flights, and 4,654 seats.”

Tonge noted that the number of flights and passengers coming into Dominica increased as a result of a meeting between Dominican tourism officials and a team from the regional airline, on May 10, 2016. The meeting followed criticism by Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, over what he referred to Dominica’s poor treatment by LIAT and in which he underscored the airline’s sub-par service to the country.

“As of June 1, we have 89 flights, and 7,261 seats, so that’s an increase of about 17%, or 20% in terms of seats, as compared to before Tropical Storm Erika,” Tonge pointed out.

However, he said that the government is still “not satisfied” with the figures, and will “continue to move, and to work with as many different potential airlines to come into Dominica, so that when a person wants to come to Dominica, it will be a lot easier for them to come to Dominica.”

He named Dominica as “one of the significant profitable routes for LIAT.”

Meanwhile, the tourism minister revealed that tourism officials are working to first raise awareness of Dominica’s existence, before marketing the destination.

“One of our critical roles is to increase awareness of Dominica,” he stated. “Before you can actually begin to market and tell someone to come to Dominica, you have to try to make them be aware of Dominica. So every so often, they’re going to see those stories out there, and say ‘hey, this is a beautiful country. Then, we begin to market.”

This, he said, will complement recent improvements in air access to the island.

$8.5-million was allocated for marketing Dominica in the 2016/2017 National Budget, to facilitate implementation of the much-touted Tourism Master Plan.