Issue - March/April 2022

LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN

The AGS Outlook on Island Life

By Megan Vosloo, AGS Communications

The AGS Group has been present in the Caribbean since the 1980s. Florine Eikenaar, the group’s deputy network manager for the region, moved there six months ago.


When packing for her new role in Curacao, the Dutchwoman travelled light, taking only one suitcase of clothing and three boxes of shoes. “I am part of the younger generation,” she explains. “Our lives are in our phones and laptops, not our personal effects.”


After six years in the international removals industry, Florine knows her move represents the global trend towards smaller shipments. It is her belief, however, that the popularity of groupage is being compounded in the Caribbean due to the region’s reliance on imports.


The rise of shop ‘N ship


Since local choice is limited and often more expensive, islanders turn to ecommerce to maintain their standard of living. “Favorable import tax rates allow locals to buy clothes, shoes, furniture—almost anything—in the U.S. and Europe,” Florine explains. “They have it delivered there, then import it privately through a company like AGS. It’s become an important market for us.”


Like online shoppers everywhere, Caribbeans like their purchases to arrive expeditiously and on time. But, for now at least, the pandemic and the ensuing global shipping crisis make that difficult to manage. Where Rotterdam and Curacao used to be connected in a straight line, shipping lines have added other ports, lengthening transit times. They have also reduced the number of port calls in the Caribbean to service more lucrative markets. This leads to delays, which clients struggle to accept.


The Amazon Effect 


For Florine’s boss, AGS Caribbean Network Manager and native Guadeloupean Francois Chataigne, the rise of ecommerce has influenced his clients’ expectations in other ways. “Expatriates want to track their household goods shipments door-to-door, like when they buy something on Amazon,” he says. “This is something that we, as an industry, must incorporate into our service model.”


Clients are also more informed because information is easier to come by, says the industry veteran of 19 years. “They used to defer to our experience; now, they send us a copy of the customs regulations,” he adds with a smile.


The road ahead 


Smaller shipments and more demanding customers notwithstanding, Francois is upbeat about the future of AGS in the region. In a market focused on general cargo, where players dabble in household goods on the side, he believes AGS can leverage its regional reputation as a household goods specialist to attract new customers.


For the group’s global removals partners, he points to the advantage of its Caribbean desk. The AGS office centralizes all shipments to and from the Caribbean and acts as a single point of contact for the region, increasing efficiency and convenience.


Florine is equally positive. “Islands depend on imports, so general cargo, which we are already doing on Haiti, is a service I am keen to develop,” she says. “The rise of the digital nomad visa could also have positive repercussions for our industry if we market ourselves correctly.”


The AGS Group founded its first Caribbean subsidiary, AGS Guadeloupe, in 1984. Today, its regional footprint includes branches in Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Haiti, Martinique, and Saint Martin.