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CASTRIES, St Lucia – The St Lucia government says it has entered into negotiations with other carriers even as it leaves the door open for talks with the British carrier, Virgin Atlantic that has threatened to stop servicing the island from next year over the payment of an EC$20 million subsidy.
Prime Minister Allen Chastanet told reporters that he is hoping that there could be an amicable solution to the impasse with Virgin but that his administration was already adopting an alternative strategy.
“Those discussions have gone extremely well,” Chastanet said, adding that he would be leading a delegation to London early next month.
“Our intention is to meet with British Airways and some of the other carriers who we have already had preliminary discussions with; but we are actually looking to put together a significant marketing campaign.
“Even prior to the announcement by Virgin, London and Toronto were two cities where we believed we had to beef up our investment,” Chastanet said, adding that he had been involved in the discussions involving the Ministry of Tourism and hoteliers and Virgin Atlantic.
Chastanet said that the carrier had indicated that it was encountering some difficulties and was approaching several governments in the region to get financial support and that the request from St Lucia was $US2.5 million a year for three years.
“That money would go straight to the bottom line – meaning that would not be in the form of a cooperative; that would not be in the form of an MRG, meaning I put a bond for $2.5 million and if the company performs better I get my money back,” Chastanet adding “I indicated to them that would be impossible for us to do.
“They had asked me to counter their offer; I felt it was difficult to do that because I didn’t understand the circumstances of their problem,” Chastanet told reporters adding that while he has had a tremendous amount of respect for Virgin, given its contribution to the island’s tourism product “I want to say that in the same way that Virgin has made a business proposal to St Lucia, St Lucia has taken a business approach to it.
“So if you took the number of seats that Virgin currently flies into St. Lucia which is just under 30 000 seats, you are talking over $US100 per seat is really what they were requesting”.
Virgin Atlantic has announced that after June 8 next year it would stop its operations between St Lucia and London’s Gatwick Airport, for the “foreseeable future”.
Virgin said the decision to withdraw from the island was not taken lightly and that Virgin Holidays will continue to serve hotels here after that date through connecting flights via partner airlines.
“Customer bookings for Virgin Atlantic flights departing up until June 7, 2020 will not be impacted”, according to a letter sent to tourism industry partners here. (CMC)