Gregor Nassief: Let's save LIAT
Owner of Secret Bay Hotel, Gregor Nassief, says the LIAT crisis is more about the future of regional tourism than an airline
This is as close to his "I told you so" moment as it gets.
"I appeal to you, Prime Minister (Ralph) Gonsalves, as well as the other Shareholder Prime Ministers, to mandate a new approach for taking LIAT and the Caribbean aviation industry forward without this perpetual and unfair burden on our treasuries," Gregor Nassief wrote to the Vincentian prime minister and chairman of the LIAT shareholder governments in a letter dated February 25, 2014. It was the Dominican hotelier's fourth "open letter" to the struggling airline's shareholders.
"Again as we desperately seek additional funds for yet another bailout, make it the last please. Don't put the money into the black hole of an unsustainable business model. Instead, use it to restructure the airline, rationalize its operations and place it on a long term solid footing," Nassief wrote, stressing that "the many ways that LIAT won't work" had been exhausted and that it was time to try "the way that will."
Fast forward to today, and Nassief has weighed in on a proposal, presumably from the LIAT CEO, David Evans, to "collapse" the airline and replace it with a Barbados-owned carrier. The Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, has savagely attacked the plan, calling it "an act of treason" against LIAT and "an act of hostility" against his country.
But Nassief has told The Sun there that the author of the plan has recognized that the airline's current business model is unsustainable and has attempted to explore a way forward without the burdens of LIAT's the high costs and reputation.
"Indeed, some may see it as an attempt to destroy LIAT, but others may see it as the only way to save LIAT, albeit through the emergence of a new entity," the Dominican hotelier told The Sun.
The paper, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun, proposes "the replacement of LIAT" with a new carrier based in Barbados. However, it recommends a "cooperative rather than a competitive" approach, including the continuity of air service, the route licensing process, and a "seamless" transfer of booked inventory.
"In order to have a balance of opportunity in this process, and being mindful of job retention, Newco (the working name of the proposed new carrier) might wish to consider offers of employment to former LIAT staff, albeit on new terms and conditions. Other opportunities lie in the retention of LIAT's existing ground handling operations in Dominica, St Lucia, Grenada and St Vincent which could tender services to Newco. A major opportunity would be the establishment, as a separate business, of a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul facility (MRO) in Antigua," it suggests.
Nassief has told The Sun that the proposed "cooperative approach" suggests that LIAT would be "a full participant" in the plan, with Barbados, as the major shareholder of LIAT and as the hub where most persons pass through the LIAT the network, "naturally poised" to be a key leader in this discussion.
"I believe the shareholder governments need to rise above the politics of self-interest and seize the opportunity to define and deliver a better future for inter-island regional airlift," the Secret Bay boss said. "This is not about an airline, it is about the survival and growth of our tourism industries and our national economies. The current 'crisis' may give birth to the hope for a better future that LIAT and its shareholder governments so desperately need."
The tourism minister, Robert Tonge, did not reply to an email from The Sun seeking comment, nor did he return our call.