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

What are your main aims and expectations in organising and promoting the Caribbean Aviation Meetup conference? What kinds of topics do you expect to be discussed at the Meetup?

Repeated conferencing on old issues and not getting anywhere is not my thing. I want learning experiences, wake-up calls and game-changers. Some of the topics may seem to be on a given subject. Others may appear to be ‘close encounters of a third kind’. But in my head I can foresee how it will all come together. You wouldn’t want to know everything I have in the back of my head, but trust me that it is all geared toward positive outcomes for everyone who will be gathering for the event in Dominica, not least for those people from the host country.


I could give you a list of the topics I expect to be discussed, but instead I would rather give you two discussion models. One is that I want most of the sessions to be in a ‘Town Hall Style’ with audience involvement. For the other model, I aim to create case studies and workgroups; they will be introduced to a situation and then it will be up to the group to discuss and find solutions.

The Roseau Market, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

The Roseau Market, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

 

What kinds or organisations and participants are you expecting to attract to the Caribbean Aviation Meetup, and what do you hope they will gain from their participation?

There will be a couple of hundred years of expertise and experience from different backgrounds on stage and to interact with. If this was an event with one theme or for one limited interest group, any learnings and outcomes might only have related to that one theme and they might be small and unimportant from the overall perspective. So I’m conceiving the conference from an overall perspective and I aim to widen horizons. Widening horizons also means bridging gaps, crossing over and reaching out.

So instead of attending five conferences geared toward limited themes, one may find oneself better off finding solutions and networking within a much wider overall perspective. The sessions may act as eye-openers: if anyone wants to go into details or deals on a smaller scale, this could be done in the corridors, so to speak. Well, in the Caribbean, it may be done more on the terrace near the water than in the corridor!

Fort Shirley, Cabrits, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

Fort Shirley, Cabrits, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

 

Do you think Caribbean aviation and tourism stakeholders may take any substantive, permanent actions as a result of any learnings and/or consensus obtained from the proceedings and round-tables organised for the Caribbean Aviation Meetup? If so, what actions do you expect they will take?

Absolutely. I am creating the conference in a way that is deliberately aiming for results. It will not about what is said, it will be about what is agreed and what is decided. I am strategically selecting speakers and subjects. I see no need for speakers polishing up their egos: I prefer those who share, present food for thought and offer solutions. Whining and complaining is also undesired, we need results.

I intend to create synergy and networks among all those who will attend. I will encourage the delegates to find solutions for existing issues and find new ways and opportunities. I expect that they will recognize the opportunities, but I hope also that they will actually follow up with actions. What will those actions and results be? Ask me next year when I can present a 12-month review. It’s in their hands, not mine.

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

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

 

Is media coverage of the Caribbean Aviation Meetup of any importance to what you plan to achieve by staging the Caribbean Aviation Meetup?

At smaller conferences media relations is often a stepchild. In my view, media relations and coverage are essential, because through the ears and eyes of independent journalists, tens of thousands of readers or viewers will be able to read, see or hear what was said. The words of the speakers and the reactions of the delegates will get out far and wide. Publicity is also important to the sponsors, who would like to see some attention as a return on their investment.

Secret Beach, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

Secret Beach, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

 

If the Caribbean Aviation Meetup this year performs to your expectations in terms of sharing information, understanding different viewpoints, and creating learnings and consensus, do you foresee the event being held again in the future? If so, what do you think would be the optimal frequency at which the event should be held? Would you expect the Caribbean Aviation Meetup to be held in the same Caribbean nation every time?

If an event is successful, it creates a brand and a demand. We would miss an opportunity if we did not follow up and repeat. It should be held annually. As to where, I would suggest, “Don’t change a winning team!” But as I mentioned before, for me it is not a business. Just consider me the pioneer who got things moving and we’ll go from there.

Palmiste, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

Palmiste, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

 

You have told us one major hope for the Caribbean Aviation Meetup is that it will act as an important catalyst in the creation of a Caribbean Aviation Industry Association, CARIBAVIA for short. What kinds of organisations and stakeholders do you think should be members of the association? What would CARIBAVIA’s main goals and activities be, and how would it pursue achieving them?

Who said I hope for it? I am convinced of it! I just hope that others will see the sunrise and don’t wait until the sunset. In principle any person, business, organisation, or authority should be involved who has a stake in promoting convenient, comfortable air transportation which will not only benefit interisland links but also will serve the tourism and hotel industries by offering international connections.

Considering that tourism can represent as much as 85 percent of the economies of many Caribbean islands, we have to nourish, protect, and improve that source of revenue and streamline an industry which has a major impact on the economy of these communities.

A Winair Twin Otter Series 300 performs the famous 'Saint Barth Dive' 10-degree final approach to landing at Saint Barth's Gustaf III Airport

A Winair Twin Otter Series 300 performs the famous ‘Saint Barth Dive’ 10-degree final approach to landing at Saint Barth’s Gustaf III Airport

 

The association, as an umbrella organization, should be advising, mediating, accommodating and promoting activities. And it should build bridges within the aviation industry and reach out to the needs of other stake-holding industries.

It will be challenging for it to deal with all the various interests in various jurisdictions. But it is an art to unite and leave the differences in place. Mind you, we may be talking about aviation, but we’re all sitting in the same boat. We can either rock that boat or make it fly.

Soufriere-Scotts Head Marine Reserve, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

Soufriere-Scotts Head Marine Reserve, Dominica. Photo courtesy of Discover Dominica Authority

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