Sunday, 3 July 2011

Airline now charges extra for golf bags

SPAIN (Agencies) Air Berlin, the main link between Jerez airport and central Europe, began charging its passengers a €50 surcharge per flight section and person, for transporting their golf clubs. This is twice the price the airline had been charging until now. The charge started in late 2010, when the company found that the vast majority of their golfing passengers heading for the sun from the North of Europe took their own clubs. Now, if the traveller does not pre-reserve his or her golf bag 48 hours before flight time, the airline will charge up to €100 per stage. Yesterday, the measure was  already causing confusion at the airport in Jerez and not a little consternation among the tourist industry in Cádiz. One representative said this was the 'coup de grace' to the low (Winter) season on the Costa de la Luz.


Air Berlin is the third airline, behind Iberia and Ryan Air, by volume of traffic, to use the newly refurbished airport at Jerez. But its role is seen as central to the area's tourism because it links to German cities all year round, directly or via a hub in Palma de Mallorca. The company also works hand in hand with tour operators throughout Europe, which is why the sudden increase in price for golfers has come as a very bitter pill.

Interviewed by Europa Sur, Dusan Ocepek, Sales Director for the Hipotels group, with seven hotels, was perplexed by the news. "We're really struggling at this destination to make things work, with lots of people operating at a loss, and now this. A couple wantoing to come down for a few rounds in (the province of) Cádiz is now expected to pay an extra €200! It will bring problems," he said.
The President of the Provincial Hotels Association (180 affiliates in the tourism business), Stefaan De Clerck, had an equally negative reaction when he heard the news yesterday. "More problems, more difficulties, to get to this destination," he said. "It will seriously impact the efforts we make to keep things going in the winter, when golfers are absolutely essential to all of us."

This summer, Air Berlin has three flights a week to Jerez from Palma de Mallorca, and once a week each from Düsseldorf, Berlin and Vienna. These are the area's only connections to Central Europe, excepting Ryan Air (whose baggage handling policy is even more severe, and is therefore not often a golfer's choice), which flies in from Frankfurt only in the high season. Prices start at around €200 for a direct flight, and at about €350 with connections. That is the reason for concern in the industry, where the extra €50 for a bag full of clubs could cause passengers to choose other destinations where the surcharge is not applied.
Oliver Günther, manager of Villanueva Golf in Puerto Real puts it like this: "It is a terrible threat for golf clubs here and for the destination as a whole. It will mean a lot less tourists, more concentration of tourism in the summer, less business and more unemployment. Many clients will not take on the extra cost, especially when most of their flights are not direct. (I suppose) we could open a club store at the airport; it might do well" he said ironically.

Air Berlin applies the golf bag surcharge on all its flights and airports, but the problem is made worse in Cádiz owing to its dependence on this airline for regular links to Europe, and the fact that it is associated with the giant travel wholesalers Thomas Cook and TUI.

There is an ongoing dispute with the two wholesalers and the local hotels -that is, those that are not owned or managed by either group- inasmuch as golf courses in the province are suffering from a lack of tourists precisely because of the lack of European connections with Jerez. There were no direct connections with Germany last winter (a crucial golfing season) for the second consecutive year. An attempt by the AlAndalus association of courses to recover direct links last year failed, they say, because 'there was no institutional support' nor any from tour operators, and they don't expect anything this coming low season either. "Air Berlin's surcharge is bound to increase the red figures on our balance sheets," said a spokesperson.

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