Published On: Fri, Aug 1st, 2014

Jet Blue: the verdict is out

Jacob Gelt DekkerLast week, with much fanfare, JET BLUE’s twice weekly non-stop routes from Curacao to New York were heralded. For as little as US $182 and as much as US $522 per leg, travellers can fly from the USA island of Manhattan to the Caribbean island of Curacao in as few as 4 hours and 20 minutes.

Whether these flights will predominantly carry travellers towards the Big Apple, or to the Caribbean tropics is not very clear, but no matter what, the island government of Curacao is footing the bill of millions of dollars of guarantees demanded by Jet Blue. Experience with KLM and Air Berlin demonstrate that most flights carry at least for 60%, non-foreign tourists, mostly islanders vacationing abroad, and New York could become a very popular destination.

Jet Blue has a great following in the USA and has become a market maker, or breaker. Jet Blue service is impeccable. They are a champion in revenue management and already have extensive experience with Aruba and Bonaire flights.

Jet Blue is not the first one to open this route. ALM flew it for many years, but predominantly with islanders heading for New York City. The more recent twice- weekly flight of Continental from Newark turned into a disaster when the load factor dropped under 30% and therefore was discontinued. Jet Blue will fly from JFK.

So, if the island is supporting the Jet Blue flights so vigorously, they may as well make sure that the local economy will benefit from a stream of wealthy American tourists. Therefore Curacao Tourist Board only has to make sure that the island product meets market demand of service, safety and uniqueness.

Unfortunately, the island of Curacao is not very service-minded and local hospitality education is lacking severely. CTB and the local government have but one choice and that is to invest in trainings immediately, vigorously and relentlessly.

A recent shooting at the HATO- airport, costing the lives of two and hurting seven more passengers, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Years of feeble law enforcement of “gentle healers who produced stinking wounds” came abruptly to an end. Suddenly police forces seem to be all over, although the gang violence seems to continue uninterruptedly. The Minister of Justice has just four months before the Jet Blue maiden flight, to clean up his act, and announced that he will do so. The future will learn whether he was just paying lip service. A next and similar criminal incident , with Jet Blue as an airline partner, would bring such negative publicity that the island hospitality would have little chance to survive.

The local Chamber of Commerce and the entire hospitality industry have sounded the alarm bells for years, but politicians were either corrupt and part of the scheme, or hard- headed, and preferred to turn a blind eye to the ever growing drug trafficking from Venezuela. The arrest of a Venezuelan drug kingpin in Aruba, and the diplomatic hysteria that followed, demonstrates clearly that the tentacles of organized crime reach far and well beyond the ability, and reach of a little island nation.

Whether the Jet Blue flights will become a fresh route of illicit drugs into the USA, or principally used by Curacao residents seeking a new heavily subsidized vacation destination, or a new feeder of USA tourism into the crumbling island hospitality industry, is to be seen.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker - Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle

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