Thursday, May 9, 2013

Haiti Travel Getting Competition

PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Travelling to Haiti got a bit more competitive.

JetBlue Airways, the low-cost carrier that has become a major player in the South Florida and Caribbean market, said Thursday it plans to begin offering daily nonstop service to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from New York and Fort-Lauderdale-Hollywood. 

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JetBlue Airways, the low-cost carrier that has become a major player in the South Florida and Caribbean market, said Thursday it designs to start offering every day nonstop service to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from New York and Fort-Lauderdale-Hollywood.

The announcement of JetBlue's continued expansion in to the region comes as a brand spanking new Haitian start-up prepares for its Mother's Day inaugural flight from Nassau, Bahamas to Port-au-Prince. The airline, Kombit, will partner with Fort-Lauderdale-based IBC Airways, which currently services the northern Haitian city of Cap-Haïtien from Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

As part of the partnership, IBC will enter in to a co-share arrangement for its international fights. It is also providing Kombit with Saab 340 turboprops twin-engine turboprop aircrafts for flights between Port-au-Prince and key Haitian cities.

Currently, Insel Air and legacy carriers American and Air Germany offer service from Miami to Port-au-Prince; Spirit Airlines and American Eagle also offer direct service from Fort Lauderdale. Delta also flies to Port-au-Prince from Atlanta and New York.

They see the opportunities that are right now in Haiti, Dimitri Fouchard, a Haitian airline veteran who is an investor in Kombit, said about IBC, which is also adding flights from West Palm Beach to Cap-Haïtien, Haiti's second largest city. IBC now offers direct jet service in to Cap-Haïtien from Miami and Fort Lauderdale times per week.

In October, the Haitian government unveiled a newly asphalted 7,500-foot runway in Cap-Haïtien, the first step in transforming the regional airport in to an international hub. Last month, Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe announced that the airport, which is still being renovated, will be renamed in honor of deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

The expanded travel choices for Haiti visitors come as the country's government seeks to boost tourism and attract both foreigners and Haitians as vacationers. Several new hotels have opened in recent months, including U.S. and Italian brands, and hundreds of additional hotel rooms are under construction. The government is also investing in renovating and expanding airports outside the capital.

We feel the airport infrastructure can support our operations,. she said.

JetBlue Spokeswoman Allison Steinberg said it's early to tell if flights to Cap-Haïtien will be in its future lineup. The airline will start flying in to Haiti's capital as early as December -- in time for Christmas and pre-carnival celebrations -- pending Haitian and U.S. government approval.

From Port-au-Prince's Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport, JetBlue designs to offer every day nonstop flight to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and two times every day flights to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL).

With expansion in to Port-au-Prince, they plan to meet the demand for quality service to Haiti by offering competitive fares to the large Haitian diaspora in the United States, said Scott Laurence, vice president of network planning for JetBlue Airways. In turn, they look forward to helping to support the community on the island.

Haitians have long sought increased competition to their homeland. The high cost of airline tickets has long been a sore point with travelers, who note that sometimes it's cheaper to fly in to the neighboring Dominican Republic and drive or ride in to Haiti than to travel directly.

Fouchard said Haiti's diaspora offers a immense opportunity, not for international carriers, but also local ones. The local market, they said, is about 250,00 customers yearly. About 140,000 of those historicallyin the past travelled with Caribintair, said Fouchard, which shutdown years ago amid issues with the Haitian government. They was a shareholder in that company.

Hoping to recoup that market, they said, Kombit will offer regular flights within country, as well as between Haiti and the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. The Bahamas market, for example, has gone from operators to, which only service Cap-Haïtien, and not Port-au-Prince, Fouchard said. That's why Kombit, they said, has chosen that market to launch its inaugural flight in to Port-au-Prince on Sunday, they said.

Still, Caribbean air travel offers no guarantees. Despite the demand and customer base, air carriers continue to struggle in the region. Last month, for example, Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines, which began operations in 2007, announced it was cutting back on its flights to Jamaica. The move irked Jamaica, which retained a 16 percent stake in the air carrier after it sold its national airline, Air Jamaica, to Trinidad in 2011. Even regional carrier LIAT, which services the Eastern Caribbean market, continues to document losses despite government subsidies.

Fouchard insists that the Haitian market is different -- and wide open.

We are not going to go and say this is an airplane and they can have ten journeys a day to a location, they said. We are going to limit the journeys from point-to-point. Fundamentally Kombit is going to find local partners to make it work.

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