- If major foreign investments are a sign of a normalised economy and society, Liberia can celebrate a major milestone. The US giant Delta Air Lines today announced it will open a direct air link between Monrovia and New York next month.
Delta Air Lines, the world’s largest airline, today announced that on 9 June it will launch flight services between the Liberian capital Monrovia and New York's John F Kennedy Airport, via Dakar, Senegal, following government approval. The weekly flight will be the only direct service to the US from Liberia.
As the US airliner exclusively bases its decisions on market and profit analyses - not political considerations - it has obviously found the Liberian destination economically sustainable, despite Liberia's small national economy, its very low level of tourism and its still shaky reputation due to its recent history of civil war.
From its situation of despair only a few years ago, the Liberian economy has experienced steady growth lately. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Liberia's GDP grew by 7 percent in 2008 and, despite the global crisis, is still projected to grow by "5-6 percent in 2009." And US businessmen are the main source of investments while USAID is Liberia's main donor, with a large presence of American aid workers and advisors.
For Delta, the new link with Monrovia fits neatly into its new focus on Africa as the only US airliner connecting the two continents. Delta already operates or soon plans to start up connections between the US and nine cities in Africa, ranging from South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Ghana, Senegal to Liberia. In the US, the African flights arrive in Delta's hub in Atlanta or in New York.
"Delta is the only carrier operating scheduled service between the United States and Africa, and we are excited to be adding Liberia to our African network," today said Bobby Bryan of Delta in a statement. "Our Monrovia service will help strengthen commercial ties and tourism opportunities between both nations," he added.
Also within the private sector in Liberia, today's announcement was celebrated. For the RLJ Kendeja Resort & Villas - located close to the Monrovia airport, owed by US capital and one of the few representatives of Liberia's nascent tourism industry - Delta's decision spelled good news.
Robert L Johnson, chairman of the US investment company behind the Liberian resort, emphasised the importance of this flight for Liberia's tourism industry. "I applaud Delta Air Lines for making the commitment to provide direct air service to Liberia which will provide economic growth opportunities to Liberia and contribute to political stability," Mr Johnson said in a statement today.
For the Liberian government, which willingly approved of Delta's new air link, the new opportunity to give a boost to the tourism industry came surprisingly early. Indeed, the Ministry of Tourism is not yet fully operational and has no internet presence. Even on the Ministry of Information's website, the many planned links to tourism related pages have been empty for two years.
But government, while still focusing on reconstruction and other sectors, hopes one day to fully make use of the country's large tourism potential. With a tropical climate and beaches, an easygoing ambient and an English speaking population, Liberia enjoyed large number of US tourists before the civil war. But almost nothing of the reasonably good tourism infrastructure of the past has been rebuilt.
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