Caribbean Aviation: New Life in Paradise Caribbean Aviation: New Life in Paradise
We interview Cdr. Bud Slabbaert on his remarkable initiative to create positive change, consensus and cooperation among aviation, tourism and government stakeholders in many... Caribbean Aviation: New Life in Paradise

In 2011, the BBC began broadcasting in the United Kingdom a new comedy-drama television series about heinous crime on the fictitious small island of Saint-Marie in the Eastern Caribbean.

Detailing the exploits of an eccentric but brilliant Detective Inspector on secondment from England, a locally based, smart and glamorous lady Detective Sergeant, two Police Constables – one of whom was an inveterate ladies’ man – and an irascible but ultimately kindly Police Commissioner as they endeavored to solve seemingly impossible murders, the series rapidly became a big hit throughout much of the world.


Purple Turtle Beach, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

Purple Turtle Beach, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

 

Fast-forward five years and that BBC series, called ‘Death in Paradise’ and always filmed in the French overseas region of Guadeloupe, is ending its fifth season and a sixth season has already been booked.

As one new episode of ‘Death in Paradise’ aired in March 2016, we visited Sint Maarten – not too far from Guadeloupe and its near-neighbour Dominica, which is a very important destination in our story – to ask aviation development executive Cdr. Bud Slabbaert about a remarkable initiative he has launched to foster cooperation among aviation and tourism stakeholders in the many Caribbean island nations and territories.

Cdr. Bud Slabbaert is seen here on the terrace of the air traffic control tower at Sint Maarten's Princess Juliana International Airport

This is Cdr. Bud Slabbaert, initiator of the Caribbean Aviation Meetup

 

Slabbaert’s initiative is to create an intensive, three-day ‘Caribbean Aviation Meetup’ forum, which will be held in June on the beautiful, ecologically spectacular island of Dominica south of Guadeloupe.

His strong hope is that the Caribbean Aviation Meetup will bring together all the people, all the will and all the other ingredients necessary to drive the formation of a Caribbean Aviation Industry Association (CARIBAVIA), whose prime goal would be to promote aviation and tourism growth throughout the Caribbean region.

Victoria Falls aerial view, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

Victoria Falls aerial view, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

 

Like ‘Death in Paradise’, the aim for the Caribbean Aviation Meetup initiative is that it will run and run. Unlike the TV series, however, the Meetup forum and CARIBAVIA, when established, will not represent ‘Death in Paradise’.

In fact, for the aviation and tourism industries in the Caribbean, and for Caribbean national economies, these new initiatives are set to represent absolutely the opposite – “New Life in Paradise”.

Here is our in-depth interview with Cdr. Bud Slabbaert.

Indian River boating, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

Indian River boating, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

 

Please tell us why you decided it was important to organise a ‘Caribbean Aviation Meetup’ aviation industry conference to take place in 2016. Did you have any input from others in deciding to pursue the initiative?

I have been thinking about the need for it for quite a while. Some time ago I saw what was missing and needed in the region. I have also seen positive developments that could be enhanced and should be promoted. But then again I don’t need to start a career and I’m not interested in starting a business. Rather, I’m at the age where one should try to help others by sharing the expertise and insights that one has. Yet I will only do so with people who are passionate and in situations where I feel it is worthwhile, or else I’m not going to waste my time and energy.

In November a visiting journalist from the UK encouraged me to be the founding chairman of a new association. I was very reluctant; I don’t care about being a chairman. I just want to make things happen. So, yes, getting a conference up and running made sense to me. But an association? Well, after mulling it around a bit more, I concluded that it would be beneficial for the region.

The terminal building at Douglas-Charles Airport, Dominica's main airport for commercial services, was badly damaged by Tropical Storm Erika in mid-September 2016. However, by September 22, several airlines had resumed service to the airport as recovery work continued

The terminal building at Douglas-Charles Airport, Dominica’s main airport for commercial services, was badly damaged by Tropical Storm Erika in mid-September 2016. However, by September 22, several airlines had resumed service to the airport as recovery work continued

 

Have you had concrete support for the concept and staging of the Caribbean Aviation Meetup from stakeholders in the Caribbean aviation and tourism industries? Is any additional support from Caribbean and/or aviation industry stakeholders still necessary in order to obtain the maximum benefit for Caribbean nations from the Meetup?

I do get a great deal of encouragement via email, from the Turks and Caicos to Trinidad and Tobago, and also from as far away as Europe and Canada. That gives me even more motivation to give it all I can. The cooperation I receive from the Tourism Board of Dominica is splendid. I have plenty of ideas for additional features around the conference. If I find support for it, especially from sponsors, I can turn this Meetup into an event that will go beyond expectations.

With any start-up, one is always confronted by a wait-and-see attitude. As word gets out, interest and motivation to support or get involved increase. Also, as I conceive the Meetup, it will not be like all the run-of-the mill, “blah-blah” conferences. I run a three-ring circus with parallel break-out sessions. I don’t want to say that the delegates will leave the conference in ecstasy but I will make sure they’ll be very glad that they did come to Dominica and participate.

Scotts Head, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

Scotts Head, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

 

Why did you choose Dominica as the venue for the Caribbean Aviation Meetup, this June?

I have made some pitches elsewhere. But I’m not courting or doing rain dances or sun dances. For me no response simply indicates there is no interest. I received some unsolicited suggestions. I have a clear mind what I want to accomplish and how. It took only two days to receive a positive response from the Minister of Tourism of the Commonwealth of Dominica and I had a teleconference with the CEO of the Tourism Authority the next morning. What can be learned from that? The fastest eat the slowest and not the biggest eat the smallest!

I will be confronted by some logistical challenges by holding the Meetup on the island of Dominica. But isn’t that what air transportation and related services are all about? Being able to face and deal with challenges will lead to strength!

Batibou Beach, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

Batibou Beach, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

 

Find out more about the Caribbean Aviation Meetup on Page 2

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