GATEWAY TO GREATNESS

Jamaica 2018 | MONTEGO BAY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Rafael Echevarne, CEO of Sangster International Airport, on developing tourism, infrastructure, and other industries.

Rafael Echevarne
BIOGRAPHY
Rafael Echevarne is CEO of MBJ Airports Limited, which holds the 30-year concession of Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Previously, he was Director of Economic Policy at the International Airport Association (ACI World) in Montreal, Canada. He has also occupied positions in airport companies in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East. Echevarne holds a PhD in air transport economics from Cranfield University (UK).

What role does Sangster International Airport play in the Jamaican economy?

Sangster International Airport is the main airport in Jamaica and the main gateway for tourists arriving into the country. Tourism is one of the key pillars of Jamaica's economy. We handle approximately 4 million passengers per year, and the growth pattern in 2017 has been positive. We have grown beyond our expectations. We are working hard with tourism sector stakeholders to ensure that we tap into the right potential growth markets. The markets of interest include Latin America, where we are making inroads. We are mainly interested in Colombia, Peru, and Chile. There are currently no direct flights from Jamaica to Latin America, other than to Panama. We have been talking mainly about the airport in relation to tourism; however, we are also working to support the development of exports, especially agricultural exports. We also see more business people flying into Sangster International Airport because of all the things going on in Montego Bay. For this reason, we are working with businesses to look at developing the real estate opportunities we have at the airport.

What flights do you have to connect Jamaica with Europe and other main markets?

The second-largest group of passengers for us is the diaspora, and these are Jamaicans living mainly in the US, Canada, and the UK. Around 70% of our passenger traffic comes from the US, followed by Canada at about 20%, and then Europe. In Europe, the main markets are the UK and Germany, though we do have flights to other parts of Europe, including Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Poland in the summer season. We also had flights to Spain and Portugal in 2017 for the first time in many years.

What expansion works do you have ongoing at the airport?

Sangster International Airport initiated a new phase of development in 2017, with a focus on investing in and improving our infrastructure. We expect that over the next 15 years, Sangster International Airport will see investments of over USD100 million. We will enlarge the terminal building, increase facilities, and add gates to reduce congestion. We will renovate car parking facilities and improve the check-in area, as well as the commercial area to make it much more attractive and interesting. We are working with the immigration authorities to ensure that the passenger experience is pleasant when people enter the country, with the installation of new kiosks. We are investing in air conditioning and many other things to modernize the airport. On top of this, we will also lengthen the runway at an additional cost of over USD60 million.

Is the infrastructure in Montego Bay adequate to give people the best tourism experience?

It is great that hotels here are also investing and growing. There are more hotel rooms available, thanks to both the expansion of existing hotels and the construction of new hotels. Tourists who come here seem to enjoy the experience. And there is potential for more. I see many upsides to Jamaica. Because we know there will be more hotel rooms coming and we have the passenger demand here, our strategy at Sangster International Airport will be to grow our facilities. However, we want to work together with other entities to ensure that the entire experience is as great as it can be. We are working with hotels and playing our part to ensure that passengers who fly into Sangster International Airport can easily get on their hotel buses. We are also opening a bus station at the airport, which will facilitate multimodal transport inter-connectivity. We are also a homeport for many cruise liners; therefore, people fly into Sangster International Airport and start their cruises from here. We have a number of flights from Europe bringing passengers in for this.