By Vania Andre
JetBlue Airways is extending service from the United States to Haiti to meet “growing demand” for travel to Port-au-Prince.
“In total JetBlue will increase its service to Haiti by more than 50,000 seats,” the airline company said, “representing a 48 percent increase over the same period last year, and a capacity increase of 80 percent since JetBlue initially entered the market.”
From Dec. 5 to May 3 of next year, the airline company will be using larger-capacity aircrafts for travel between the two countries, resulting in 40 additional seats per day. An additional flight has also been added to accommodate to the holiday season peak from Dec. 25 to Dec. 31.
“The increase in flights will further the connection between the country and its diaspora, whose support is an integral component of Haiti’s economic future,” said Haitian Ambassador to the United States Paul Altidor. “It will further connect the country to international travelers, business investors and culture enthusiasts and highlight the strides that Haiti has made to renew itself as a strong market and unique destination in the region.”
JetBlue has made a commitment to increase 150 seats for the upcoming summer months. Beginning May 2016, the airline giant will add a second daily flight from New York to Port-au-Prince, as well as a third connecting flight from Ft. Lauderdale, which will take effect in June 2016. Lastly, in Boston, service from the New England city will increase from two to three flights per week.
“Haiti is no longer searching for tourists,”said Stéphanie Balmir Villedrouin, Minister of Tourism for Haiti. Villerdrouin sees the annoucement as an opportunity for large companies such as JetBlue to send a “strong message” to the travel industry — “Haiti is ready to receive visitors.”
However, for economist Lodovic Comeau, the increase isn’t necessarily an indicator of a growing tourism industry in Haiti.
“What would be more impressive, would be if this increase in traffic was related to an increase in tourism,” he said. Comeau believes it shows more of an interest between the airline and the Diaspora and the Diaspora and Haiti — not a correlation between tourists or investors. It’s not the “investors that are flying,” who are causing this much of an increase in traffic to Haiti, he said.
Although Haiti’s tourism numbers were less than impressive in past years, especially compared to neighboring countries Dominican Republic and Cuba, the country made significant gains in 2013 and 2014. According to a report by the Caribbean Tourism Organization, Haiti experienced a 20 percent increase in 2013. Rates tapered off in 2014 with an increase in 11 percent. This year however, was off to a strong start, with an increase of 9.8 percent in non-cruise arrivals from January to April, compared to the previous time that year.
“As time goes on, it is imperative that the world recognizes Haiti as a renewed destination that must be experienced,” said Villedrouin. “This flight adjustment is a major step forward, and the result of the continuous efforts to establish Haiti as an appealing travel destination on the tourist map of the Caribbean”
“Since launching service to Port-au-Prince in 2013, the Haitian community has responded overwhelmingly to JetBlue’s award-winning service and convenient connections to our route network,” said Dave Clark, vice president of network planning for JetBlue. “We’re pleased to meet increasing demand by investing in the market and making more seats available between the U.S. and Port-au-Prince. These service additions, along with the volunteer work our crewmembers perform in the country, demonstrate our commitment to this market.”