Sun | Jun 17, 2018

Patria-Kaye Aarons | Sky-high travel tragedy

Published:Wednesday | June 13, 2018 | 12:00 AM

On June 5, 2017, Delano Seiveright's airline ticket to New York cost J$422,193 (US$3,375). His accommodation, meals and ground transportation were an additional amount.

Out of curiosity, I went to cheaptickets.com and researched a similar trip. I upped the ante. The ticket I requested was first-class. For kicks, I also threw in as a requirement a stay at a five-star hotel and renting a midsize vehicle for the entire period. The grand total for everything: US$3,149. Less than Delano's economy plane fare to the same destination.

In February last year, Delano flew to Miami and back at a cost of J$107,000. For the rest of us, that's airfare AND shopping money. I couldn't figure out how the price got to that.

I have no difficulty with a senior official in the Ministry of Tourism travelling abroad. In my view, it's an expected and accepted part of his job. The substantive part of Delano's $8.9-million tab over 15 months is airfare. Tickets alone were more than J$5 million. Why? Pure and simple. It's the antiquated government practice of booking tickets with a travel agent. And that's my problem.

The reality is that were those tickets booked online, the bill would have been cut in half. Taxpayers can't afford to pay travel-agency prices - not for ourselves or our public officials. This isn't a Delano issue. It's an issue right across the board.

I'm made to understand that most overseas travel by government employees is travel agency-booked. That's costing the country unnecessarily.

No disrespect to those who work in the industry. I've heard many make an argument that sometimes they are able to negotiate lower rates. Those instances, in my experience, have been few and far between. Others make the point, and rightfully so, that some destinations have peculiarities that their expertise can help with (visa requirements, travel restrictions, etc). Wonderful! We'll consult you for those trips. But why do we need a travel agent to book a ticket to Miami? We have to be responsible with how we spend.

 

Zero issues

 

A large corporate company I worked at made the decision that all airline travel was to be booked online by administrative assistants. It was at first met by resistance, but the ladies eventually adjusted. A couple booking 101 sessions later and there were zero issues. And the savings to the company justified the decision tenfold.

Another company I worked with simply hired someone in-house full-time to handle the logistics of moving both people and cargo. He booked all tickets (online) and arranged for the transportation of all cargo. His salary was way less than how much the company saved.

My point is, in the same way that we can no longer accept high phone bills from Arnaldo Brown or Audley Shaw or any other government official because there are free or low-cost technological solutions, high ticket prices are equally unacceptable.

Next move needs to be the digitisation of government docu-ments. Do away with the big books at police stations. How do I trust the statistics coming out on crime if they are collated by someone calling around, station by station, and counting what's written in the big book? Lunacy!

Do away with employment records stored in manila folders in file cabinets. Heaven help if there's a fire at the Ministry of Education. All records would be lost. These and other backward, outdated govern-ment practices are costing us a fortune, and they must be stopped.

A modern government trying to shape a modern society must log on to technology. Anything less is expensive, inefficient and, in the case of information, quite possibly inaccurate. Do better.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@yahoo.com, or tweet @findpatria.