Canadian airlines to resume service next winter to St. Maarten and Puerto Rico

MONTREAL — Canadian airlines are planning to resume service to a couple of hurricane-stricken Caribbean islands next winter amid repairs to key infrastructure.

Air Transat said Tuesday that seasonal flights will return to St. Martin, St. Maarten and San Juan, Puerto Rico from Montreal and Toronto for four months starting just before Christmas.

The Montreal-based airline has flown to the French-Dutch island since 1992, the last few years offering one flight a week from each of the Canadian airports.

The hurricanes that heavily damaged parts of the Caribbean last September forced the cancellation of its plans to launch that new destination a year ago.

“We’re coming back now because the infrastructure is back — airports and everything,” Transat spokeswoman Debbie Cabana said in an interview.

Both destinations are embarkation ports for cruise packages. Many of these passengers only purchase flights and stay for a couple of days before cruises, she added.

“When the authorities started building back the airport and everything, we had a team from the product team that went there to make sure that everything was on .125par.375 and that the offer was good for the customers.”

Transat took a $5-million hurricane hit in the first quarter and expects another $10 million to $15 million in the second quarter because of changed travel patterns resulting from the storms.

Air Canada says it is monitoring the situation on both islands and is expecting to operate its normal schedule to these seasonal destinations.

Air Transat and Air Canada resumed service to other affected islands where it flies earlier in the last winter season.

Transat’s airline operations to Varadero and Holguin resumed a few days after the hurricanes, while service to Santa Clara and Cayo Coco returned in mid-November.

Air Canada said operations resumed across Cuba and to Turks & Caicos in January.

Neither WestJet nor Sunwing could be immediately reached for comment.

The Calgary-based airline has previously said it planned to resume service to St. Maarten in May while Sunwing had said flights would be suspended until this spring.

Sunwing said it hopes to return as soon as practicable to St. Maarten, which has always been a popular destination for its customers.

“We are in close contact with our hotel partners there and hope to be able to resume operations in 2019,” said Andrew Dawson, president of tour operations.

In the meantime, flights have been increased to other popular destinations, including Antigua from Montreal and Toronto, he added.

A recently released study says last fall’s hurricane season resulted in an estimated loss of 826,100 visitors to the Caribbean and about US$741 million in spending that would have supported 11,000 jobs.

The World Travel and Tourism Council added that research on past natural disasters suggests it could take up to four years for hard-hit areas to fully recover, resulting on the region missing out on more than US$3 billion.

Tourism is one of the most important economic sectors in the Caribbean. Nearly 47 million passengers spent US$31.4 billion in 2016. It contributes 15 per cent of the Caribbean’s GDP and nearly 14 per cent of employment.

Islands that experienced the most damage were Cuba, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, St. Barthelemy, St. Martin, St. Maarten, Barbuda and Dominica.

Two-thirds of the region avoided damage.

Islands such as Grand Caymans, St. Lucia along with St. Vincent and the Grenadines benefited as more travellers visited those countries.

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