The Caribbean islands are hoping to lure back the Brits with a string of winter sun offers. Jeremy Gates reports
With bookings for Egypt’s Red Sea coast hard hit by political unrest, there’s growing optimism that the Caribbean could bounce back into favour as a top long-haul destination for winter sun-seekers this season, despite the hefty tax bills which clobber British visitors to the region.
Since Chancellor George Osborne imposed the latest increase in Air Passenger Duty (APD) on April 1, a family of two adults and two children has paid £332 in tax when flying from UK airports to the Caribbean. Barbados, at the top end of the tourism market, blames the tax for a 10 per cent plunge in visitor numbers from Britain in the last year alone.
Tourism authorities in the islands argue that the level of APD tax applied to the Caribbean is excessive, and unfair in comparison with other long-haul destinations. But a campaign by tour operators, airlines and hoteliers to make the region more affordable could win back travellers who switched to the Far East and Indian Ocean luxury resorts in recent years.
Barbados set the campaign rolling, offering vouchers worth £200 to early bookers until December 21. Local suppliers are following suit on other islands. According to the latest Post Office Long Haul Report, prices charged in Jamaican resorts have plunged by 36 per cent in a year, helped by the fact that Jamaica’s dollar’s not hitched to the US dollar. The report reckons local prices in the same period are down six per cent in Antigua, seven per cent in Barbados and one per cent in the Dominican Republic – and a greater surge of the pound against the dollar in recent days, following a confident statement from Bank of England governor Mark Carney, could further boost British visitors’ spending power.
But the real game changer, according to Bob Atkinson at Travelsupermarket.com, is new flights by Thomas Cook Airlines, from Manchester to St Lucia and Barbados from November 10, with an extra Manchester-Antigua-Barbados flight starting Thursday, December 19. These are linked to Flybe connecting flights from regional airports around the UK.
January special offers for Thomas Cook return flights to Caribbean, bookable now, start at £384 for Barbados, £416 for St Lucia and £423 for Antigua.
“Until now, what you might call the ‘Classic Caribbean’ has been carved up between BA and Virgin from Gatwick,” says Atkinson, “with Cuba/ Dominican Republic very charter-driven by Thomas Cook and Thomson. The new flights by Thomas Cook Airlines hoist a massive signal that this is a market ripe for expansion, and with the Flybe link, travellers will soon be getting to the Caribbean much more easily from outposts like Scotland, Exeter, Belfast and the Isle of Man.”
Another sign of a strong Caribbean revival is the discounted winter packages at leading resorts, with Sandals all-inclusives from around £1,300 per week until April 2014.