MoT expecting increased business following Family Islands tour
Guardian Business Reporter
San Salvador - Tourism officials are expecting a warm response from the private aviation sector in Florida following a familiarization tour of the Family Islands led by the Ministry of Tourism.
Aviation specialists from the ministry took more than 30 aviation professionals to four Family Islands last weekend, including Grand Bahama, the Berry Islands, Exuma and San Salvador.
Leonard Stuart, a civil aviation specialist at the Bahamas Tourism Office (BTO) in Plantation, Florida said that the annual trip provides The Bahamas with a unique opportunity to market itself to fixed based operations (FBOs) in Florida.
"They can bring several hundred clients to The Bahamas on an annual basis, because once they come to The Bahamas, they all get excited and they learn how easy it is to fly to The Bahamas. Within 20 minutes of flying, you can come upon an island," according to Stuart.
Stuart admitted that in the past, there have been challenges with getting the private aviation community into the country. However, those issues have been ironed out and the sector is now seeing a steady increase in business.
"We have had some challenges in years gone by. We were told that the services were inconsistent. In some cases, they were being charged overtime by the Customs Department. Since then, we at the Ministry of Tourism have been working closely with them along with Immigration and Civil Aviation, to the point where a Civil Aviation Council has been established to deal with any matter that's not being properly adhered to," he explained.
"Right now, I think we are doing a great job with the help of our ambassadors out of the United States, who are willing to support us and ensure that people are able to see the beauty of the islands throughout The Bahamas. These trips will result in economic stimulus for the country."
Alex Carreno, operations manager at SheltAir Aviation out of Ft. Lauderdale, participated in the four-day familiarization tour. He shared with Guardian Business that there is great potential, as more clients are expressing interest in flying to The Bahamas.
"At least three to four of our clients on a daily basis travel to The Bahamas. This translates into approximately 2,000 people on an annual basis. They are usually traveling on the weekends for vacation," Carreno noted.
"I was here to learn how the process of flying into The Bahamas works, so that I am able to pass this information on to our interested clients. There is a lot of potential for The Bahamas in this market, because we are receiving more and more interest from people who want to travel. Once they hear what I have to say about this trip, they are going to love it even more."
For Brad Elliot, director of new business at Showalter Flying Service out of the Orlando Executive Airport, his company's involvement with the Ministry of Tourism has proven to be beneficial for both parties.
"Within this last year, I've answered at least one call per week to someone that wants to fly to The Bahamas. I even got a call from someone in Alaska who was coming down on vacation. Pilots usually want to know someone that's done it, so that way they know exactly how to do it. If we've done it, we can walk them through the step-by-step process and make sure that it's done right, so that there are no worries of doing it wrong or paying fines. It's a great relationship for us," Elliot said.
He pointed out that approximately 30 planes at Showalter Flying Services have owners with homes in The Bahamas.
"This provides a very good mix for us to get involved with, because a lot of our customers were flying back and forth. We also have customs at our airport which requires an extra step to get to us, which is called an over flight permit and that's where we come in and help the pilots and owners who fly direct from their home in The Bahamas to Orlando, so they are able to over flight and come right to us," Elliot added.
Stuart also confirmed to Guardian Business that his team is already looking to expand its reach slightly beyond Florida, based on the success experienced so far.
"Right now, we are speaking with some people out of Texas to hopefully have a Bahamas-based operation as a gateway FBO, where these individuals are specially trained about The Bahamas. Also on the East Cost, we go as far up as the Carolinas," he shared.
© 2012 The Freeport News