Photo: Airline tickets
Dozens of business owners and employees in the travel agency sector protested outside Venezuela’s Tourism Ministry to demand the government pay billions of dollars in ticket fees owed to international airlines.
“We’re very seriously asking the national government to pay the more than $4 billion debt it has with the airlines,” travel agent and protest spokesman Pierre Marteau told Efe.
The Venezuelan government owes around $4 billion to airlines related to money from ticket sales in 2013 and 2014, according to Venezuela’s airline association, known as ALAV.
The government’s Cadivi foreign-exchange agency collects Venezuelan bolivars from ticket sales, and airlines are having difficulty converting that money to dollars for repatriation due to currency controls.
Airlines have been responding by restricting ticket sales in the Venezuelan currency since August 2013.
Marteau said the situation has put “more than 250,000 jobs at risk” across the South American country’s entire tourism industry.
For its part, tourist operator Iñaki Alberdi said the airlines’ move to reduce ticket sales in bolivars has caused a massive reduction in employment in the tourism sector, saying “30 percent is a conservative figure” for industry-wide job losses.
“I’m selling 67 percent less than I sold last year,” the owner of the Cereus travel agency, Paquita Peña, said.
“This past week I sold two flights to Europe when normally I’d sell eight or 10 per day,” she added.
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro said Thursday that some European airlines have reprogrammed flights to attend increased demand in Brazil related to this summer’s soccer World Cup.
“It’s a big lie and he knows it because this has been happening since last year and no one’s going to travel to the World Cup a year early,” Peña said.
ALAV President Humberto Figuera said Wednesday that with each passing day the airlines are closer to a possible decision “to temporarily suspend operations until this issue is resolved.”
Alitalia and Air Canada have suspended service, while other foreign air carriers have chosen to reduce the frequency of flights to or from Venezuela or try to fill seats exclusively with sales in other countries.
Venezuela’s government has held several meetings this year with foreign airlines and assured them that it will pay the money corresponding to 2014 ticket fees and review the debt corresponding to 2013.