Low-cost European carrier Norwegian Air’s recent move to drop routes serving Martinique and Guadeloupe will not disrupt the French Caribbean destinations’ recent visitor growth upsurge said Karine Mousseau, Martinique’s tourism commissioner, this week.
“Obviously we are quite disappointed Norwegian will cease operations at the end of this season to our capital Fort-de-France,” Mosseau said in an email to TravelPulse. “For several years they provided non-stop service in the United States to East Coast residents from New York and Fort Lauderdale and had just inaugurated non-stop flights from Montreal, Canada.
“We are however comforted by the fact that American Airlines has provided for years non-stop service to Martinique year-round from Miami,” Mosseau said. “And that long-time partners Air Canada and Air Transat have been doing the same from Montreal.”
Mosseau’s office is talking with other Caribbean-serving airlines as well. “Since we received the news, we are of course hard at work speaking to airlines already flying to the Caribbean,” she said. Mosseau also noted that “17 percent of our American visitors come from California and without the benefit of direct flights.”
Norwegian Air offers several flights from the U.S. and Canada to Martinique and Guadeloupe as part of its winter schedule. The carrier will slash those flights on March 31 to cut costs, company officials said.
“We are sad to see the end of our French Caribbean operations, which we launched back in 2015,” said Norwegian spokesman Anders Lindström. “While our routes to Guadeloupe and Martinique have performed fairly well, with cost-cutting measures as a priority and aircraft utilization in focus, it is not financially sustainable.”
Norwegian’s competitively priced departures from U.S. and Canadian gateways have played a role in Martinique’s overnight visitor growth since 2016. A roundtrip flight to Fort de France from New York’s JFK International Airport was priced at $318 online on Friday.
Martinique country hosted 537,391 overnight guests in 2018, a slim 0.3 percent increase over 2017 that follows larger increases in 2017 and 2016 (the first year’s arrivals exceeded 500,000 visitors).
“The loss of air seats and of capacity is always a challenge,” said Hugh Riley, CEO and secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), responding to a question on Norwegian’s Caribbean departure at an online media briefing last week.
Riley vowed to consult with “our member countries that are affected and especially we’d like to have a word with the carrier involved. In general, one wants to see air seats and capacity increase,” Riley added.
Mosseau indicated Martinique will also continue to rely on a diversified product mix that includes other tourism segments. For example, the island has developed a significant cruise ship business. “Our cruise figures are way up,” said Mosseau.
Martinique travelers a sophisticated, exotic Caribbean experience that mixes natural beauty with fascinating history and culture. Martinique’s status as an overseas region of France brings significant nuance to a cultured milieu which also features African, Caribbean and Creole influences.
As Muriel Wiltord, Martinique’s tourism director points out, “Our flag is le Tricolour, our currency is the Euro, and French is the official language. The same fantastic French wines and champagnes, fashions and perfumes that you find in Paris, you can also find here.”
Wiltord adds that “Martinique is distinctly West Indian. In addition to French, locals also speak Creole,” she said. “Traditional local dishes like Colombo and Calaloo mirror those of neighboring islands, and cultural customs and festivals like storytelling, Carnival and the Yole Boat Race are very much alive in Martinique.”
A Bevy of Boutiques
Martinique’s hotel and resort base is characterized by distinctive boutique beachside and luxury properties in the historic capital of Fort de France as well as in nearby districts including Trois Illets.
The 94-room upscale Hotel Simon features a minimalist contemporary design and a terrace bar and lounge overlooking Fort de France harbor. Martinique local Marcel Ravin, a Michelin-starred chef, heads La Table de Marcel, the hotel’s gourmet restaurant. French CoCo is located outside Fort de France in Tartane, a hillside reserve above the beach town of Tartane on Martinique’s Atlantic coast.
Trois Illets’ colorful and contemporary hillside boutique property Le Panoramic offers a stunning view of the bay of Fort-de-France. The charming La Suite Villa hotel is another Trois Illets favorite, featuring a fanciful architectural design highlighted by an array of original artwork. La Pagerie offers a chic and comfortable, full-service option for families with property-wide Wi Fi with a lush tropical interior garden courtyard and pool.a
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