Dominica hopes new international airport will elevate it to major Caribbean destination – Skift

For years, tourists flying off the beaten track to the tiny Caribbean nation of Dominica rely on neighboring islands using planes or boats to get to their destination.

While Dominica, known as the “natural island” of the Caribbean, has always had international flights from neighboring islands, the small nation could not offer direct flights to and from Europe and the continental United States – until now.

The construction of a new international airport, which is expected to be completed in 2025, will be a game-changer for this small country that is relatively difficult to access, opening up a world of opportunities for tourism and economic growth.

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And in a hyper-competitive market like the Caribbean, a new airport that can carry tourists directly from lucrative source markets like Europe can change the status of a destination like this.

“The development of the international airport is a long-standing goal and dream of our government, as we know the importance of significantly developing the tourism industry and improving the ease of doing business in Dominica,” said Denise Charles, Dominica’s Minister of Tourism, said in an interview with Skift.

A rendering of Dominica’s future international airport.

Samuel Johnson, CEO of the Dominica International Airport Development Company, agreed it would all come down to air access.

“You can have the best attractions, the best hotels. and the best brands, but if it is difficult to get to the island, it adds even more friction to a visitor’s trip. And we’re an island in an island chain, so they could just as easily land in any of our sister islands which are easier than ours, ”Johnson said. “So we really think it’s going to improve several aspects of the country. “

There is no price yet for the project because the call for tenders is in progress but some press articles fixed it at north of $ 220 million.

The airport which has been in the planning phase for several years is designed by an American boutique company Landrum and Brown, specializing in airports and aviation planning. The new international airport will meet world-class standards and will be located close to Douglas Charles Airport, which it could eventually replace, Johnson said.

Dominica expects that once the airport project officially begins with the inauguration, it will boost the global economy in a major way.

“It has already started because we expect to see a boost in the construction industry. And in the actual construction phase, we will see an increase in direct jobs associated with the construction of the airport as well as indirect jobs, ”Charles said.

Indirect jobs include people who provide accommodation services, restaurateurs and transport services contributing to job creation in the economy and overall improving the business climate once Dominica has an international airport. .

Hotels will also add jobs to the economy, and plans are already underway to prepare the infrastructure for the influx of tourists a new airport will bring.

A new tourist and commercial frontier

Unlike the rest of the Caribbean region, Dominica’s coronavirus story is a success story.

The Caribbean island is currently at level one – low risk on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s List of Covid-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination and is on the UK’s coveted Green List. This is because Dominica has successfully contained Covid-19, with no community spread and zero deaths.

This is good news for an island which, before the pandemic, had continued to develop hotels on the island, including a combination of large chains and luxury hotels such as Marriott, Hilton, Secret Bay and the Jungle Bay and Cabrit Resort and Spa Kempinski.

In addition to increasing tourism, the international airport will help Dominica in freight transportation and trade.

Charles said Dominica has plenty of locally produced agricultural, organic and manufactured products to offer, including flora, a variety of crops such as bananas and dasheen, some of which are marketed in the region.

“One of our challenges has been to get it into international markets because of the weather and it has to get there fresh and crisp for the markets. So this will certainly open up many opportunities for us in terms of trade, not only in the US market but also in the UK market, ”said Charles.

It’s too early to put a dollar figure on the revenue the new airport will generate for Dominica, Charles said, but she believes it will be huge revenue. Based on the expansion the island is experiencing with hotel projects, trade, jobs, and the opportunity to invest more in the country, Charles believes the possibilities are endless.

“It will definitely transform our economy and dramatically increase our GDP (gross domestic product),” Charles said.

Build a the airport is bearing fruit with the increase in tourism in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean, Loop News reported. The opening of a new airport has also changed things for the better in Saint Lucia, an island neighboring Dominica.

“St. Lucia is often seen as a sister island to ours with many similarities including the same French connecting culture and the common French Creole language in addition to English, but Dominica is a bit more rugged and less densely populated, which leaves a lot of room for expansion, ”Johnson said.

Build new roads

To avoid a cold start once the new airport is complete, Johnson is working hard to start international flights from the continental United States to Dominica as soon as possible, including upgrading its current airport to facilitate this. He has contacted Delta, JetBlue, Caribbean airlines and is in active talks with American, Johnson said.

“We think that we may not be able to accommodate the bigger planes, but there are new technological changes, for example the Airbus A220, a smaller plane which is very efficient for flying long routes. thin, which Dominica would initially be, ”Johnson said. mentionned. “Applicable

Dominica is also actively working on developing active routes for current and future airports, he added.

American Airlines Dominica test flight

U.S. crew members join Dominica Airport and government officials on the tarmac at Douglas Charles Airport after performing a test flight from Miami, Fla., To Dominica in June. Photo courtesy of the Dominica International Airport Development Company.

In preparation, the island hosted its first American Airlines flight when an American Eagle aircraft operated by Envoy made a test flight to Dominica from Miami, Fla., In June, Charles said. Successful flights are one of the last hurdles airlines face before obtaining an air operator’s permit for a destination.

Dominica is going to be a changing environment in terms of consumption, restaurants, entertainment, luxury transportation and clothing that will attract significant numbers of visitors from Europe and Asia, said Missi P. Henderson, Permanent Secretary of the Prime Minister’s office. .

With its new airport, Dominica is looking to attract tourists from the United States, the United Kingdom, Asia and in particular France, all important markets for the country. In addition, he looks to South America, Latin America and other regions that love nature and nature lovers who enjoy adventure, water sports and swimming with whales, said Charles.

“Dominica is one of the top ten diving destinations in the world and a lot of people don’t know it,” Charles said.

Henderson said Dominica’s central location in the Caribbean makes it an ideal hub even for regional travel and they believe its airport will become the region’s new hub.

The airport will be built in five phases, but as the RFP is currently underway, the Prime Minister’s office has refused to disclose the cost of the airport project at this time.

However, in terms of financing the projects, Henderson said the country had considered several options for loans or grants. And to minimize the debt of the country and its citizens, Dominica decided as a country to use its Citizen by Investment (CBI) program under the leadership of the Management Consultants Montreal East., specializing in immigration and CBI for several countries, she said.

This has proven to be an innovative funding model that we have used for a number of our projects since Tropical Storm Erika in 2015, Hurricane Maria in 2017 and of course during this pandemic, Henderson said. And so “we have tested it at our health centers, our homes, and the intention is ultimately, when you have an airport, not to have any debt burden, and to have revenues allocated to operate and operate the airport in a sustainable manner, ”she said.

The operation of Dominica’s CBI program is very similar to that of the US E-B5 Immigrant Investor Program which accelerates citizenship for investors, where foreigners wishing to become Dominican citizens through approved foreign direct investment will then be granted citizenship. accelerated, Johnson said. .

Vaccines and teleworking

As tourism slowly picks up, Dominica is capitalizing on the remote working revolution around the world right now, offering a “Work in nature” program allowing visitors to stay on the island for up to 18 months, with a selection of apartments from participating resorts for rent with reliable internet service, Charles said.

Dominica is currently in the midst of a mass vaccination campaign with 40 percent of its target population vaccinated.

Tourists fully vaccinated with proof of vaccination are no longer required to self-quarantine if they arrive with a negative PCR test done within 72 hours and take an antigen test at Dominica airport upon arrival, which takes about an hour to process, she said.

Light clearing begins this week and new homes are being built for families who have been moved to make way for the new international airport, Charles said.

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