||PHILIPSBURGCommissioner of Tourism and Aviation Frans Richardson says Air Berlin is very interested in flying between St. Maarten and Berlin, Germany.The Commissioner said while at the ITB Berlin travel trade show he had met with Air Berlin Group’s Senior Vice-President of Strategy Stephan Nagel, who had indicated that the hope was for the airline to start servicing the island this year or next. "However, they plan to come here for a familiarisation trip later this year," Richardson explained.A press release from the Commissioner’s office said Air Berlin was currently building its own airport that would serve as a European hub for all its other destinations, including the Caribbean and the U.S. This, according to the Commissioner, would make partnering with the airline even easier, and would create a synergy with Star Clipper that would be able to reserve seats on Air Berlin for its passengers."All we need now is the full support of all the stakeholders. We need everybody to make this work," the Commissioner said. "I also had very good discussions with Condor airline’s Head of Planning Herwig Oberhuber, who showed a lot of interest in having Condor add St. Maarten to its destinations in the Caribbean," he continued. Condor already services Barbados, St. Lucia and Santo Domingo from Germany, he added.Richardson, accompanied by Edward Dest of St. Maarten Tourist Bureau, met with other representatives and tour operators, who told him that the island had lost its competitive edge in Germany and the wider European market, basically because of lack of funding."They were very happy to see me there in person so they could express their concerns directly to me," he continued, adding that the issue of funding for the European market was being addressed. "In fact, we now have a firm that represents us in The Netherlands."The Commissioner also met with LIAT officials at the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) meeting held at the ITB Berlin. "The main topic of our discussions was the high fares to Caribbean destinations that the airline charges. We, as St. Maarten, are suffering from these high fares, which are making travel from the other Caribbean islands very expensive. The other islands are talking to Winair to see if it can’t chip in to bring down prices," he said.
"All in all, I would say it was a very productive trip, even though I was a little under the weather," he said. "I’m now looking forward to following up on all the opportunities that have opened up with this trip."