The Dominican Republic, at least the parts that few foreigners get to experience, is a tale of two countries – one with orange Lamborghinis and $500 dinners for two, and the other of deep poverty, especially for those living outside of the capital with few opportunities for social and economic growth. A place where the average salary is only $300 a month and many live off subsistence farming and other manual trades.
Mr. Olivier Arrindell, a self-proclaimed “new” Dominican who was born in Sint Marten to a Caribbean mother and Dutch Caribbean father has made it his mission to bring economic prosperity to underserved areas of the DR with his about-to-be launched airline, AVA Airways. AVA seeks to disrupt the industry with its premium offerings like in-flight food and free alcoholic beverages without charging more for those services.
Known colloquially as the “King of Santo Domingo,” Olivier races around from meeting to meeting stirring excitement and passion in his investors and government officials for the vision of the Dominican Republic as a flight hub and gateway to the rest of Latin America, with the additional hope of bringing business development between the African diaspora, continental Africa and the Americas.
And these goals aren’t just the whims or dreams of grandeur, but through grit, self-resilience and a knack to get to the heart of the matter Mr. Arrindell has secured financial backing from a who’s who of sports figures, musical superstars, institutional investors and has inked a deal with one of the top airplane leasing company to secure a variety of great aircraft options (for example, the Airbus 320), with plans for the inaugural flight in the last quarter of 2020.
These facts only tell half the story of a man who is open, generous, steeped in historical facts and driven to prove that those from historically oppressed nations can make a mark without seeking a handout or playing a sport.
AVA Airways – What Makes Them Different
AVA Airways is a project conceived from a need that has gone unfulfilled for decades. Travel was once an enjoyable experience that passengers looked forward to but has evolved into nonstop stress that begins long before you get to the airport. In today’s travel industry, passengers are treated like cattle, but AVA Airways has a new approach that seeks to revolutionize the industry.
Ava Airway’s goal is to create a cohesive concept that streamlines the travel process from inception to completion and beyond. To do this, they organized all of their design innovations around three core principles: “Taking Crazy out of Flying,” by making Ava Airways actually worthy of passenger affection; “Know the Journey,” by designing touch points that are tailored to the unique moments comprising a passenger’s journey with Ava Airways and “Membership Matters,” by creating an airline model that goes beyond fare-based transactions.
AVA Airways gives the traveler the possibility of flying without many common restrictions prevalent in the current travel climate. Based on Arrindell’s vision, AVA Airways has designed solutions based on five pillars that define the AVA Airways concept: Predictable pricing, human contact, passenger transfer, simple boarding and consistent baggage policy. Olivier’s idea of predictable pricing is predicated on the idea that there should be no differentiations that may threaten the quality of care for all passengers, in other words, no basic economy verses standard fares. The second of these pillars, human contact, is one of the most important differentiations of AVA from other airlines. This is because AVA has personnel trained to, above all, listen to the client and be agile in order to provide the best customer service possible. Of the five pillars, the third is the most unique: Passenger transfer. This allows a booked guest the possibility to transfer his/her ticket to a third party and/or alter the flight date without surcharges.The fourth and fifth pillars have to do with the logistics of travel, simple boarding and consistent baggage policy. The fifth being truly revolutionizing, by providing a definition of a single standard of weight, consistent with the user’s needs, that does not become a stress situation for the traveler or the company.
Another advancement of AVA is that it is centered around technology. In the age of autonomous cars, the experience starts with your trip to the airport. Waiting for airport security disappears with in-transit screening, allowing you to head right to your gate. Additional improvements like minimizing “gate lurking” before boarding the flight are achieved by apps feeding real-time information to travelers.
Face-to-Face with the Legend
Having decided to feature Mr. Arrindell on our cover, I was prepared, like we do in almost all other cases, to interview him on the phone; Olivier lives in the Dominican Republic full-time and had no plans to visit New York nor did I have plans to come to the Dominican Republic. However, after a brief call he insisted that I fly down to Santo Domingo to meet him, his team and see how the “King” really lives.
Upon arrival into Santo Domingo, I was whisked into the VIP lounge where they privately and efficiently processed my entry into the country. Waiting for me with his cadre of staff was the man himself, Olivier Arrindell, a tall (and large) man who, with open arms and a smiling face, welcomed me into his kingdom.
From there we were off, in his brand-new Range Rover, to lunch where we discussed politics, the state of the Dominican economy and (briefly) his plans for AVA; I was impressed by his candor, willingness to share and vision for the country and his airline. After lunch, it was off to meet young (and very talented) music producers to discuss how he could help them advance the career of a young and promising Dominican singer and to see his well-appointed office on the 23rd floor of the most luxurious building in the city. Dinner was had at one of the best restaurants in town along with his lovely partner and the photographer who shot the photos you see in his troy; it was a lovely evening full of discussion on the opportunities and challenges facing the country.
The next day we were off to Alta Vista, one of the swankiest restaurants in all of the country. Here, perched upon a mountain top, with views for miles, we had a fabulous lunch and I learned that the chef and owner of the restaurant would be the food service provider for the airline; hearing that lobster, fish, a truly amazing fried rice and other high-end offerings would be complimentary on AVA sounded almost too good to be true, but after hearing Mr. Arrindell’s raison d’etre and his explanation of costs, it made perfect sense; Olivier wants to bring humanity back to airlines, especially those from countries who may have never tasted, even a bit, of luxury in flying.
Mention should be made that Mr. Arrindell has expansion plans for the company, ones I can’t divulge, so as not to give any inside corporate information to competitors but suffice it to say that with his strategy in place the sky is the limit for AVA.
A Word of Caution
Leaving me on my own to make it back to the airport for travel back to New York, Olivier had a devious plan in mind; he wanted me to experience what a normal traveler would go through at the Santo Domingo airport. And all I can say is that in my 45 countries traveled to, sometimes visiting a country on multiple occasions (like Italy, France, Japan, South Africa, etc.) the airport in Santo Domingo had to be one of the top 3 worst airports I have ever been to. From the long check-in line (thankfully I was devious enough to get around it) to inefficient immigration system, the airport is a hinderance to any future plans to grow the country economically and as a tourist destination. Thankfully, Olivier, through AVA Airways, plans to lobby and advocate for change, while giving AVA’s passengers options for a speedier and more efficient travel experience.