In a recent interview with a Canadian travel trade publication
, Glen Beache, CEO of the St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) Tourism Authority, made a number of questionable assertions about Argyle International Airport (AIA):
1. AIA will now have its “opening date” delayed to March 2016 partly because “the search is ongoing for a CEO to oversee the airport after the top candidate had to bow out” and because “finishing touches” on the project are still ongoing.
2. Though this delay will mean missing the “winter sun market,” this is of little consequence because “the SVG diaspora travel year-round, especially in June and July.”
3. AIA is necessary because, “It’s always been about access and direct flights. This airport is a huge game-changer for us.”
4. “Airlines including Air Canada, Westjet and Sunwing are still top choices for direct routes from Canada once the airport opens.”
5. “Now that the airport is nearing completion, St Vincent and the Grenadines is seeing more interest from international hotel brands… An announcement from the Prime Minister should be coming soon.”
6. “St Vincent and the Grenadines will never be a mass-market destination… The current room count is about 2,100.”
None of these statements has any credibility.
Since I have already dealt with all but the first issue in a series of 16 essays documenting the folly of AIA (see below), only a short review is in order, especially with AIA seen as the crowning achievement of the entire 14-year Ralph Gonsalves regime in the December 9 election.
1. The March 2016 “opening date” is simply the latest in what are now at least four failed promises of the airport’s completion. The plain fact is that this government and its airport and tourism executives have no idea whatsoever of when the airport will be “operational” and no concrete plans ensuring that it will actually be “operating” once it is completed. It would be far better – and much more credible – for them to simply say it will be completed when it is finished, a tautology many of its ULP supporters have been using for years. More particularly, the “finishing touches” that Mr Beache refers to include work that others have shown will take years to complete.
The inability to recruit an airport CEO also speaks to the reluctance of reputable and experienced airline executives to align themselves with this bogus project.
2. This airport was never conceived or built to satisfy the Vincentian diaspora, whose members have never been reluctant to return home for a visit regardless of the alleged inconvenience of traveling through Barbados. It is being constructed to attract large numbers of non-Vincentian tourists.
3. All over the world, international airports were constructed or enlarged to meet an existing demand – too many visitors for the existing airport to handle and/or too many hotel rooms for the existing airport to service -- not to create a new or enhanced travel demand. There simply is no need for AIA based on our low travel demand. The only “need” for an airport lies in the need to win elections by satisfying the childish “airport-envy” of most Vincentians.
4. None of the “top choice” airlines has shown an iota of interest in making SVG its next “top choice” destination. Air Canada stopped servicing a prime travel destination like Trinidad and Tobago years ago due to low traveller demand; WestJet only services the powerhouse tourism destination of Barbados three times a week with 150-seat planes; and Sunwing doesn’t even fly to any Eastern Caribbean destination and only services the mature Jamaican tourist market on an irregular basis.
5. There is not a shred of evidence of any interest -- let alone “more interest” -- from “international hotel brands” in entering the Vincentian market. Nor is there any credible evidence that any small boutique hotel is willing to invest in the mainland of SVG. The so-called “memorandum of understanding” that Prime Minister Gonsalves claims an alleged group of Canadian investors has signed to build a small hotel in Kingstown and a large resort at Mt Wynne cannot be produced simply because it does not exist.
6. The 2,100 current room capacity that Mr Beache claims now exists encompasses the whole of SVG and has been grossly inflated to include unadvertised and hence unknown rooms in private homes or tiny guesthouses, which are therefore unavailable to potential visitors planning a trip here. More important, most high-priced rooms and other accommodation are located in the Grenadines, making them unreachable to potential visitors except via a flight from Arnos Vale/Argyle or a boat from Kingstown. Tourists who want to stay in the Grenadines have the more convenient and cheaper option of flying to our wondrous keys from Barbados, Grenada or St Lucia. As for the mainland, the maximum number of available rooms is around 750, hardly the basis for justifying a billion-dollar airport.
“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight” (Proverbs 12:22).
This is the seventeenth in a series of essays on the folly of the proposed airport at Argyle. My other AIA pieces may be found at:
Get ready for a November election in St Vincent and the Grenadines! But which November?
Lessons for Argyle International Airport from Canada's Montreal-Mirabel International Airport
Lessons for Argyle International Airport from the cruise ship industry
Lessons from Target Canada for Argyle International Airport in St Vincent
Lessons from Trinidad and Tobago for Argyle International Airport
The dark side of tourism: Lessons for Argyle Airport
Why Argyle won't fly: Lessons from Dominica
Ken Boyea and the Phantom City at Arnos Vale
Airport envy Vincie-style
Fully realising our country's tourism potential
Airport without a cause
The unnatural place for an international airport
The Potemkin Folly at Argyle
False patriotism and deceitful promises at Argyle
Airport politics and betrayal Vincie-style
Phony airport completion election promises, Vincie-style