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Flying to the Caribbean

Cdr. Bud Slabbaert, initiator and chairman of the annual Caribbean Aviation Meetup conference and expert in strategic communications and business aviation development, discusses this year’s event and its evolving potential for the future.


From June 12-14, the third annual Caribbean Aviation Meetup conference will be held in the Bahamas. The conference concept is unique, and was named one of the best aviation forums in this part of the world. This feedback is bolstered by aviation company Airlift, which does not just refer to stakeholders in the aviation industry but also to those in the tourism industry.

Up to 85% of the economy across the Caribbean islands depends on the tourism industry, so Airlift’s operation is crucial for the region. Flying is complicated in the Caribbean which comprises more than 20 territories, an extensive number of different jurisdictions, and no ‘open sky’.

The presentations at the Meetup are selected for the purpose of creating opportunities and realistically improving the way Caribbean air transportation functions, while the speakers are chosen for their particular expertise. Representatives of the companies are reaching to (engaging with?) the Caribbean – for instance, this year, Canadian government agencies have provided support around the event to establish business relations in the region for Canadian companies.

When in the process of inviting speakers, it is my habit to first make a phone call with a potential speaker and discuss what might be presented. I seldom just invite by rank, title, or who’s well known. There were several occasions where I myself had never heard of a person before, but during a phone conversation, I felt ‘Wow, this hits the spot and is exactly what we need to hear more about’.

I don’t see this ‘my’ conference; it is the attendees’ conference and needs to help the region to solve dilemmas and encourage improvement. Attendees don’t just come sit and listen to speakers, they want a learning experience. They have to be able to justify why they attended the event.

When forced to change plans due to the impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria (last year), an appropriate new location and venue had to be found. The Ministry of Tourism and Aviation of the Bahamas offered to host the conference. It may have been one of the best things that could have happened to the growing event and gratitude is deserved to the Bahamians.

Holding the conference in the Bahamas is a bit of a game changer. A growing number of companies in the USA and Canada have a serious interest in reaching out to the Caribbean. Many major companies have their representation for the Caribbean and Latin America ‘next door’ in Southern Florida.

The nearby Miami airport is often an ideal international hub and on the return trip, the US pre-clearance in Nassau is an advantage. Additionally, the event venue, the Atlantis Resort, has several hotel variations and so much to offer around the conference hours and days, be it relaxation or entertainment.

The Caribbean Aviation Meetup is a conference with a vision. It is evolving from a pioneer startup to the fully fledged convention of the future, an extraordinary and outstanding event on the international conference calendar.

As for the growth vision, the Bahamas has two of the largest convention centers in this hemisphere with ample potential for growth. Holding the conference in the same location every year is a serious consideration, and performance and results have high priority.

The outcome of this year’s Meetup will determine what the next development toward this vision will be. An interesting development is that the Meetup is not only getting a community that is in regular attendance, but it starts acting like a family. It is becoming a combined international industry and regional stakeholders community event.

May 7, 2018



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