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Letter: Going forward or moonwalking? Lessons for Argyle International Airport
Published on April 24, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

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Dear Sir:

An opinion piece titled “Going forward” in the March 24, 2017 edition of St Vincent and the Grenadines’ (SVG) Searchlight newspaper, in which respected former senior civil servant, Christian I. Martin, a long-time advocate of big government, presented an argument for the need to enhance direct foreign tourism investment in our tiny, export-driven, resource-poor country, reminded me of two of his other essays in that newspaper.

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In a July 31, 2008, editorial, he revealed that "When Milton Cato's ... Labour Party acceded to office in 1967, he got the British Government to finance a study which considered ... whether St Vincent should have an International Airport. The study … concluded that as so many of the neighbouring islands had jet airports, none was needed in St Vincent," an assessment Mr Martin has strongly rejected ever since.

Still, he failed to also mention, perhaps because it is now widely acknowledged, that the Honourable Dr Ralph E. Gonsalves’ government built the international airport at Argyle in 2005 without the benefit of a detailed economic feasibility study, which proved this decision wrong.

Could this be why in another Searchlight op-ed on February 27, 2015, Mr Martin opined that “… our [Argyle] airport is literally being built on a wing and a prayer”?

All three opinion pieces are joined at the hip.

The absence of a comprehensive study, including assessing the realistic costs and achievable benefits of such a costly endeavor, certainly confirms his “wing and a prayer” assertion. But his 2008 article, where he makes highly abbreviated reference to airports among some of our neighbours, including St Lucia, Grenada, and Dominica, fails to convince this social scientist that “Social scientists would regard this as empirical evidence that the airport is needed and that the [British] study got it completely wrong.”

St Lucia had a robust and growing tourist presence long before it built its Hewanorra International Airport in 1973 yet now has an unemployment rate of 25 percent; Grenada which received its airport free of charge from the Cuban and American governments in 1984 at a time its tourist numbers were increasing year after year today sees 29 percent of its working population unemployed; SVG, whose international airport became operational on February 14, saw almost 1,000 fewer passengers land at Arnos Vale in 2016 than the average of the 2001-16 period but has the lowest unemployment rate of the three at 19 percent.

These figures reflect the seasonal nature of employment and the overseas repatriation of most of the profits in the foreign-controlled Caribbean holiday industry.

As for Dominica, which is still considering the construction of an international airport, the country saw 240 percent more stopover tourist visitors land at its regional airport in 2015 than we did at ours, a critical observation given minister of tourism Cecil McKie’s recent pronouncement that the World Bank has estimated that Argyle International Airport (AIA) would see visitor levels increase by a mere ten per cent within its first three years of operation.

In short, the international airports in St Lucia and Grenada were built to meet a growing visitor demand while the lack of an international airport in Dominica has not prevented that country from growing its tourist numbers to levels we could only dream of.

A missing link that also unites the three Martin essays and explains all the above is any discussion of “Whatever its advantages and disadvantages, SVG is what we have”, which I take to mean the various features we have that would attract thousands more visitors to the mainland because of the completion of AIA. Mr Martin inadvertently tiptoes around this missing link when he now writes, “We have several small hotels [on the mainland] and this is good. However, the real big earners for our tourism are places like Mustique and Canouan.”

Why is this so?

Tripadvisor, the world’s largest travel site, with more than 60 million members and over 170 million reviews and opinions of various travel-related features, lists the number of “things to do” in St Lucia as 566, Grenada as 257, and St Vincent Island as 68, figures closely correlated with their overseas visitor levels. Attractions bring tourists, not the reverse.

Both the key tourism-related physical differences between the islands – facts of nature over which we have no control (“SVG is what we have”) such as the absence on the mainland of the large swaths of powdery white sand beaches that tourists crave -- and the way they have been developed, augmented, and promoted to meet the needs of a growing flow of visitors is also why proportionately more of our wealthy citizens have always travelled on holiday to our three closest neighbours than their citizens have travelled here to enjoy our mainland. The same holds true for holiday visits by mainlanders to our enchanting Grenadines, again showing that our mainland has relatively few tourist attractions and even less natural potential.

The problem is not, as Mr Martin claims, a paucity of foreign hospitality industry investors, as our experience with the Buccament Bay resort should teach us, as should other types of direct foreign mainland investment in shady offshore banking schemes and the fraudulent Ottley Hall Marina. The problem is attracting honest, competent, experienced, and moneyed overseas entrepreneurs to invest in sectors that have realistic potential for increasing employment, incomes, and profits.

In sum, although we may have some possibility for development in other areas
(though I can’t even name one or two, including agriculture, with any degree of confidence), I contend that we simply lack the God-given features to grow our small mainland tourist industry, which is why our British colonial masters were correct in their 1967 assessment, why so many of our traditional donors said no when our prime minister begged them for help with AIA, why his regime was wrong to start its vainglorious construction of a needless international airport in 2008 that will see our economy moonwalking for generations, and why Martin is dead wrong when he claims that “Governments in small countries inevitably have to play a bigger role in the economy than they do in larger ones,” a claim disproven by countless examples of small countries with small governments and big countries with big governments.

***

This is the 50th in a series of essays on the AIA folly. My other AIA essays are listed below:

1. Get ready for a November election in St Vincent and the Grenadines! But which November?
2. Lessons for Argyle International Airport from Canada's Montreal-Mirabel International Airport
3. Lessons for Argyle International Airport from the cruise ship industry
4. Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle International Airport in St Vincent
5. Lessons from Trinidad and Tobago for Argyle International Airport
6. The dark side of tourism: Lessons for Argyle Airport
7. Why Argyle won't fly: Lessons from Dominica
8. Ken Boyea and the Phantom City at Arnos Vale
9. Airport envy Vincie-style
10. Fully realising our country's tourism potential
11. Airport without a cause
12. The unnatural place for an international airport
13. The Potemkin Folly at Argyle
14. False patriotism and deceitful promises at Argyle
15. Airport politics and betrayal Vincie-style
16. Phony airport completion election promises, Vincie-style
17. Is Argyle International Airport really a ‘huge game-changer for us’?
18. Has the cat got your tongue, prime minister?
19. More proof that Argyle won't fly
20. Our very own Vincentian cargo cult at Argyle
21. The missing Argyle Airport feasibility studies
22. The world's four most amazing abandoned airports
23. Farming, fishing, and foolish talk about Argyle International Airport
24. Argyle Airport amateur hour
25. St Vincent's place in the world of travel
26. Investing in St Vincent's tourism industry
27. The Argyle Airport Prophecy: What the numbers say
28. Did the IMF drink the Comrade's Kool-Aid?
29. Why Qatar? Why St Vincent and the Grenadines?
30. Foolish words about Argyle International Airport
31. 'If I come, you will build it': Lessons from the Maldives for Argyle International Airport
32. City lessons for Argyle International Airport
33. Who really lands at Arnos Vale?
34. No ticky, no washy - Argyle-style
35. We have met the Vincentian tourism enemy and he is us
36. Hotel St Vincent 
37. Why St Vincent Island has so few tourists
38. Why Bequia is a gem of the Antilles
39. Why seeing is believing in the Caribbean tourism industry
40. St Vincent's cruise ship numbers are much lower than we think
41. Lessons from Barbados for Argyle Airport
42. Cuba's tourism rollercoaster: Lessons for Argyle Airport
43. What the world teaches Black Sands Resort and Villas
44. Not all Argyle airport critics are 'internet crazies'
45. Why Roraima Airways? Lessons for Argyle airport
46. The print media's take on the opening of Argyle International Airport
47. Our Argyle International Airport 'veritable miracle'
48. The Argyle airport 'poppy show' opening
49. St Vincent's 2016 tourism numbers are nothing to brag about

C. ben-David
 
Reads: 5329





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Comments:

g.b:

This is just two examples to show where your 'rational analysis' concerning unemployment in the Islands is seriously flawed. St. Lucia for example, had a thriving Agricultural sector that brought in over a hundred million XCD per year and provided scores of jobs for locals. Grenada banana sector was destroyed by disease & hurricane caused a major set back to its spice industry, again, two major employment providers. Since you on top of everything how could you not know that? Genius! Those two points alone in my view are sufficient to nullify your entire argument concerning employment, Tourism & International Airport. An International Airport is only one of several factors that contributes to tourism development in a country. You have issues with anyone who writes in support of AIA. Why don't you go & dig it up? Vincent Beache quoted from a British study at the opening of the AIA,......I done.

Observer:

G.B, Ben knows how to do everything, yet he is unable to come up with a genuine plan that would propel this country forward. No one is bothered by Ben's false prediction.

Vincentian are in full support of locally made produce. Take for instance, "SVG Cocoa Company says the 100% Vincy Chocolate launched throughout SVG on the 23rd September 2016 have received excellent response from the general population, with average sales of 1,000 bars per week". Wow! Ben what does that say? The Company has created 200 hundred jobs. Wait, that's not all. Our brand has recently been recognized internationally. Another plus! My brother, while you spin top in mud, we are focused on advancing this country. As Long as I'm alive, I'll continue to support my Vincy product. Ah Vincy me say, development all the way. Had mine Chocolate bar, excellent product, with an exceptional taste.


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